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Fire in the East by Harry Sidebottom
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Fire in the East (2008)

by Harry Sidebottom

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English (10)  Italian (1)  Spanish (1)  French (1)  All languages (13)
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
I came to this from the author's excellent Throne of the Caesars series. As a first book in this series, a lot of it was introduction to the characters, time and place, although we've met Ballista before. Years have passed since the death of Maximinus Thrax and Aquileia; this story places us in the reign of Valerian, years later. Ballista strikes me as an "outsider" who struggles to fit in, much as the characters of Gillian Bradshaw. Perusing the list of characters and recognizing some names from Throne of the Caesars, I wondered: are these the same people, but a few years on? Not much originality in the cover: the same ubiquitous Roman soldier. Can't any publisher come up with something more striking for Roman military novels?

I've seen other people's reviews and many complaints about how slowly the book begins, with many details of excruciating [to them] detail. Sometimes I enjoy a slow-burner--pun, based on the title :) -- with all the asides and tidbits of details. I didn't read the novel for the siege only, but enjoyed the journey to get to Arete and of course the final siege and conflagration. Arete lay very close to the Roman/Persian border. Ballista has been given orders by the emperor to prepare defenses and finally to defend the city from the Sassanid Persians. He can ask for extra troops from other cities and levy citizens. The emperor promises to send reinforcements. There were many exciting incidents: a storm at sea, fight with Gothic pirates, then various skirmishes, extramural missions and the final siege and its aftermath. Someone is a traitor. Near the end Ballista muses: Is [the outcome] my fault? Did I concentrate so much on the Sassanid siege works that I did not pay enough attention to the possibility of treachery? ... would clues have been there? Would I have seen them?

The first time through I read it solely for the adventure but when I reread I concentrated more on some of the loose ends, motivations I feel the author didn't explain. Who killed Scribonius Mucianus and why? One culprit or two? What was the blackmail surrounding Turpio, which he didn't explain and Ballista never pushed? Who sabotaged the armory? What was Acilius Glabrio's motivation in giving the perfume for Ballista's bath since the two hated each other? I feel there were genuine but subtle clues, also red herrings. I do have my suspicions, but....

I felt like the city of Arete was a thinly-disguised Dura-Europos: http://dura-europos.com/
put into a fictional context. In the author's notes, he states he DID base his fictional city on it. I felt like this novel was several cuts above any Roman potboilers flooding the market, due to the construction of the story and the author's impeccable historicity. The Ballista name was silly, but there WAS a historical Ballista.

Most highly recommended. (less) ( )
  janerawoof | Jan 11, 2017 |
Sometimes it seems that the supermarket shelves are groaning under the weight of historical novels set during the 'Glory that was Rome'. Sadly many of them are unreadable tosh (yes, Ben Kane, I mean you!). However, Harry Sidebottom is a different proposition altogether.

A teacher of classical history at Oxford, Sidebottom knows his stuff, but, more to the point, he can also write. The man knows how to construct a pacey, exciting story and keep it moving.

Fire in the East is volume one of the Warrior of Rome series, set around AD256, which follows the adventures of Marcus Clodius Ballista, a Germanic diplomatic hostage, who has been granted Roman Citizenship and has served in the Roman Army, rising through the ranks to the point where, at the start of the novel, he has been given command of the defence of the City of Arete, on the eastern fringe of the Empire, as the Sassanid hoardes under the King of Kings, Shapur, threaten to capture it and drive Rome from Aasia Minor. Ballista is a complex character and Sidebottom explains his motivations and anxieties well as he deals with shoddy and resentful troops and arrogant, aristocratic officers.

There is intrigue aplenty, as the Emporer's spies keep an eye on Ballista and somewhere a traitor threatens to undermine the defence of the city. Sidebottom stocks the story with a large cast of characters and there is humour here as well as exciting action set-pieces as the siege of the city gets underway. The author never flinches from showing us the harsh sacrifices a supreme commander must make in order to achieve the task he has been set. The reveal at the end is well handled and overall this is a great read, based on sound knowledge of the era and a true love of the subject matter.

The next volume beckons. Recommended. ( )
  David.Manns | Nov 28, 2016 |
It's good, but you could argue that not an awful lot happens over a lot of pages. But, once I got over that, I really enjoyed the developing character of the main man, and began to care about his, and the other character's fate. It could certainly have done with more action, but I'm going to see the big picture with this one, and get searching for number two in the series.
Where it does score, is in the depth of research and knowlege the author displays. He really does know his (Roman) onions, that's clear, but he shows it in a subtle and convincing way.
Enjoyed it and can recommend it. ( )
  Speesh | Mar 29, 2014 |
bookshelves: published-2008, ancient-history, historical-fiction, one-penny-wonder, paper-read, tbr-busting-2014, winter-20132014, hardback, roman-civilisation, war, syria, military-maneuvers, testost-tosh, washyourmouthout-language, mythology, adventure, conflagration, spies, gr-library, iran-persia, iraq
Read from February 01 to 02, 2014

Description: The year is AD 255 - the Roman Imperium is stretched to breaking point, its authority and might challenged along every border. The greatest threat lies in Persia to the east, where the massing forces of the Sassanid Empire loom with fiery menace. There the isolated Roman citadel of Arete awaits inevitable invasion.

One man is sent to marshal the defences and shore up crumbling walls. A man whose name itself means war: a man called Ballista. Alone, Ballista is called to muster the forces, and the courage to stand first and to stand hard, against the greatest enemy ever to confront the Imperium.

This is part one of WARRIOR OF ROME: an epic of empire, of heroes, of treachery, of courage, and most of all, a story of brutal, bloody warfare.

There be a map spread over two sides: The Voyage of the Concordia and the itinerary of the Dux Ripae

Followed by another two sided map of the city of Arete, on the Euphrates, and a fragment from the Sassanid Book of Ayin

Prologue (Summer AD238) War is hell. Civil war is worse.

The first line of Chapter I: By the time the warship had cleared the harbour breakwater of Brundisium, the spies had found each other.

Book is discarded from Bristol Public Libraries.

Ahura Mazda

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It is all 'Nasty Work In The Dark With A Short Sword'. ( )
  mimal | Feb 2, 2014 |
Ballista is sent by the Roman emperors to help Arete withstand a coming siege by the Sassanid Persians.

I read the first half of this novel, about Ballista's journey to Arete (based on the real city of Europa-Duros) and the preparations for the siege but my heart sank at the thought of another 200-odd pages about the siege itself. So I gave up. ( )
  Robertgreaves | May 28, 2013 |
Showing 1-5 of 10 (next | show all)
This action-filled adventure story focusing on the siege of Arete, an apocryphal town on the Euphrates River at the eastern edge of the Roman Empire, is a great read.
 
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Book description
In the reigns of third-century emperors Valerian and Gallienus, the low-born Marcus Clodius Bastilla achieved citizenship and the honorific of Dux Ripea serving in the Roman army. He is sent to the east to fight against the Sassanid Persian army.
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The Roman soldier Ballista is sent to the threatened citadel of Arete in A.D. 255 to shore up its defenses against the massing Persian empire.

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Penguin Australia

An edition of this book was published by Penguin Australia.

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