M C Scott’s ROME
Am I to become a fount of ideas for great historical reads? Heck, there are worse things to be. And in this particular latest suggestion, I have for you a novel of such paramount import that you need to rearrange your reading pile and slide it in next…
I dare say that there are some of you who are not familiar with M C Scott’s novels. She has written a fair wealth of fiction, not all Roman; not even all historical, from thrillers, to apocalyptic mysteries, to tales of Boudicca. But it is her Rome series that I am particularly interested in and that I urge you to consider. This (The Eagle of the Twelfth) is actually the third of Scott’s Rome novels. The reviews I have already written for the first two are openly visible on Amazon:
or on Goodreads:
and hopefully you’ll pop along and have a look at those too. And now, on to the main event…
For the purpose of this post/review, I’m going to assume that you’ve read the first two, or at least a review of them that has you interested (see above if lazy). I shall, however, as always attempt to include as few spoilers as possible.
I love the first two Rome books. I’ve given them both a well deserved 5 of 5 stars in reviews. What I need is to give them 9 of 10, I think, so that I have somewhere new to go with Eagle of the Twelfth for, while the first two novels are excellent, this one is outstanding and deserves a little extra credit.
In a fresh, unusual, and most welcome move, Manda has taken the Rome series off at a tangent, though rather than forming a separate series along the new line, she has bent the original tales to follow.
The first two novels are essentially the tale (told in two parts) of Sebastos Abdes Pantera, an agent of Seneca in the reign of Nero, and his longstanding battle with a man of equal skill and knowledge, though twisted into something wicked and dangerous, seeking ultimate power and destruction at once. They are told in the traditional third person and follow on in a tried-and-tested chronology.
Not so, Eagle of the Twelfth. Where previously, Pantera has been the principal character with a supporting cast of fascinating others, in this tome, Pantera IS that fascinating other, while the story revolves around a fresh, new character: Demalion of Macedon. Moreover, the tale is told in first person from Demalion’s point of view, lending it a personal and emotional feel way above and beyond the first two books.
I spent some time wondering why the author had settled on this new perspective. Then something clicked. Other than the new and fresh feel it lent the book, it also solved a potential problem. You see, the second book seals off one chapter in the life of Pantera, and his tale could have ended there, but for the fact that Scott left him in a somewhat untenable position from where he was unlikely to bounce back. This new direction allows the tale to become more of Demalion and his part in giving Pantera a future. I won’t say that this was the reason the book was written this way, but it certainly works nicely like this.
After a rousing prologue, the story begins some years before the first Rome novel, in the territory of the King of Kings, ruler of the vast Parthian Empire, anathema of Rome. Here, Demalion, a young man fresh to the Fifth legion, has been seconded to help Pantera on a mission deep within enemy territory.
Having succeeded, he is recommended for promotion by Pantera and receives it, to his great regret. You see, the only legion he can be promoted into is the Twelfth Fulminata, a legion with a reputation for ill luck and disaster to whom no soldier wishes a transfer.
So begins the first part of the tale: a story of personal growth and trying to remake a disasterous legion once more into a proud fighting force. Unfortunately, the Twelfth is doomed to suffer setback after setback, resulting finally in the ultimate disgrace for a legion: the loss of its Eagle.
By this point, however, the tale has once more caught up with Pantera, following the events of the first two Rome books, and the second half or so of ‘Eagle’ tells the tale of the first great Jewish war, painting into its history the part that must be played by Pantera, the loss of the eagle and the attempt to recover it, and the growth and blossoming of the great soldier and deep person that is Demalion of the Twelfth.
This book is at least the equal of the first two in the series in Scott’s ability to paint vivid and wonderful, believable characters, with all their flaws and foibles, loves and fears, and also in her masterful treatment of the animals in her stories, but this story also goes deep into what it means to be a soldier of Rome and what the legions meant to those who served in them. It is an educational tool as much as a great tale in that respect, and I cannot recommend it highly enough as both gripping tale and educational tool.
Eagle of the Twelfth is a masterpiece on an almost unprecedented scale in the world of Roman fiction. I find it mind-boggling trying to imagine how Scott planned this book without a time machine, a reenactment group, a whiteboard the size of Westminster and twelve coloured pens and half a dozen assistants.
I do believe that it is possible to read this as a start to the series, though I suspect the reader will get more out of it following the series in written order. Whether you want to read this now and see if my ravings stand up, or start with the Emperor’s Spy and build up to it, give it a go. You owe it to your soul.