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The Three Legions by Gregory Solon

The Three Legions

by Gregory Solon

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Right around this time of year is when Battle of Teutoberg took place, so I have been rereading this novel for the last couple of days [early September 2014]. My impression: I thought it better than I read before! I'd give this a higher rating than 5, if LT had it. I found nuances I hadn't found the first time. It is too bad that in 2009 [the second millennium anniversary of this all-important battle], the publisher had not seen fit to reissue the book with a new updated cover more in keeping with today's tastes. The ones of years ago were pretty bad. I do wish this book had more exposure and more folks would seek it out and read it! Used copies are readily available. This is certainly an overlooked gem!

Earlier review: This rather obscure book of 50-60 years ago tells of the three Roman legions in Germania in 9 AD under the inept P. Quinctillius Varus. The first part concerns itself with garrison life in their summer camp. Then the legions begin marching to their winter camp and are betrayed by Arminius, the Romanized German. Arminius leads the legions into the deathtrap of the thick Teutoburger Wald and marshland: the Varian Disaster. In attacks lasting three days, the legions are nearly completely destroyed. The cavalry ala deserts; it is all slain. The story follows Tribune Cinna, commander of the Legion Victrix [ironic name, meaning "Victorious"]; Thessia, his concubine; Arminius; the lecherous centurion Talt; and a young recruit--never named--"the fisher from Marsalia" [present day Marseilles]. The history is not completely correct, and I did find some errors, e.g., these legions were only numbered--XVII, XVIII and XIX. Historically, they did not have honorific titles as in the book. Also, stirrups were not in use at that time. The correct term for a Roman common soldier is 'legionary', not 'legionnaire', which the author used.
I speculate the Tribune was a thinly disguised historical Prefect Lucius Eggius, who died in battle. The author had fought in the U.S. military, and I felt he caught very well the moods, thoughts and words of the legionaries, including the brutality and bullying, but without vulgarity. The crucifixion was suitably gruesome. I was impressed by the scenes towards the end when various groups of soldiers are discussing death and dying before the final conflict. The bodies of both the Tribune and his Primipilus lie dead before them. The conversations seemed authentic to me--the way soldiers would talk.
I felt the author told a very good story without the crudeness of many more modern books. This book should be better known. ( )
  janerawoof | May 24, 2013 |
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