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War at the Edge of the World (Twilight of…
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War at the Edge of the World (Twilight of Empire)

by Ian Ross

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Absolutely enthralling and packed with action! Set in Roman Britain, during late reign of Emperor Constantius and subsequent acclamation of Constantine by the troops in the 4th century A.D., a time not treated much in fiction. Aurelius Castus, a common soldier, who, in fighting Persians, because of his valor at his unthinking rush into the breach when his centurion is killed, is decorated. After defeating barbarians in Pannonia is promoted to centurion and sent to Roman Britain. He becomes part of a diplomatic mission to the Picts and the mission goes terribly wrong. He surrenders himself to the Picts in exchange for his men's lives; his century has come with him as honor guard. The envoy takes his own life, as a matter of honor and rather than suffer brutality. Castus waits for the right opportunity then escapes, making his way back to his fort, pursued by the Picts and their dogs. The town of Isurium and surrounding countryside is burned and the Roman inhabitants killed. The home of the envoy is near Isurium. The honorable Castus seeks it out and rescues the envoy's daughter, Marcellina, from the barbarians. He takes her to Eboracum with him at her request. Upon the order of Emperor Constantius, he leads a punitive expedition north again, to destroy native villages, then the Pictish hillfort in which he had been imprisoned.

I feel the author chose an excellent name for his unforgettable protagonist. That name expresses his personality perfectly: Castus = Chaste in the secondary senses of decent, simple, uncomplicated, guileless. The envoy's daughter, Marcellina, expresses it best: "[you] always appear[ing] the strong, obedient soldier, unthinking, like a dumb animal .... you are a good man, Centurion." She sees something more to him than what others see: she senses something deeper: kindness and a code of honor, maybe even the self-deprecation and lack of self-confidence that I picked up on. As centurion, he has learned to mask his feelings in front of his men. I am sure, as this series progresses, he will blossom. His mantras have always been "Duty" and "Following Orders", but he shows great initiative in his evading recapture and his actions at the hillfort. If he can become more assertive outside his military role....

The novel was well written and carried me back into that era. I felt many emotions: identification with Castus and his feelings, anger at the Picts, fear for him on his flight, sadness at the massacre of his century, especially as the Picts had let them go, promising him they would not harm the men. I appreciated that no scenes with Marcellina turned sexual--that Castus respected her, her station and the class gulf between them. Outstanding were the pages on the harrowing escape from the Picts and their dogs and the climactic battle at the hillfort, including preparations. I am eager to follow him on his further adventures.

Highly recommended. ( )
1 vote janerawoof | Oct 19, 2015 |
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Centurion Aurelius Castus - once a soldier in the elite legions of the Danube - believes his glory days are over, as he finds himself in the cold, grey wastes of northern Britain, battling to protect an empire in decline. When the king of the Picts dies in mysterious circumstances, Castus is selected to guard the Roman envoy sent to negotiate with the barbarians beyond Hadrian's Wall. Here he will face the supreme challenge of command, in a mission riven with bloodshed and treachery, that tests his honour to the limit. As he struggles to avert disaster and keep his promise to a woman he has sworn to protect, Castus discovers that nothing about this doomed enterprise was ever what it seemed.… (more)

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