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The City Of Invention

The book reviews of UK children's author, Brian Keaney

Divided Loyalties On Hadrian's Wall

Island of Ghosts - Gillian Bradshaw

Well-written, with a character-driven plot and a strong emotional narrative, Island Of Ghosts is the story of Ariantes, the leader of a group of Sarmatian warriors, barbarian auxiliaries brought to Britain to be stationed beside Hadrian's Wall.


Ariantes' arrives with divided loyalties. He and his followers were incorporated into the Roman army after a defeat and feelings are still raw on both sides. Regarded with contempt by the Roman military establishment, he struggles to keep his followers from a suicidal mutiny, a task made all the harder when indigenous Celtic tribes begin to exploit their divided loyalties.


I have often wondered how successfully barbarian warriors managed to integrate after entering the Roman army en bloc. The loss of one identity and the struggle to take on  a new one must have been formidable. Gillian Bradshaw brings this rather academic question  to life by focusing on the personal. There is plenty of careful research in this book but at its heart is a love story that is both convincing and moving. That is not something one finds too often in fiction set in the ancient world.