Agent of Rome: The Far Shore
Some time back I read the first two Agent of Rome books back to back and reviewed them. They were excellent reads, quite different from one another, given the fact that they are part of a series.
So, when given the opportunity to read the third in the series, I leaped at the chance.
The Far Shore continues the adventures of Cassius Corbulo of the Imperial Security Service (the Grain men or Frumentarii), his Gaulish slave Simo, and his ex-gladiator bodyguard Indavara. It takes place only a short time after the events of The Imperial Banner, and continues to build the relationship between the characters.
I will (as usual) not delve too deep into the plot, in case of spoilers for people, but I will say a few things. For those of you who have read the first two, this third book bears a lot more resemblance to the second than the first, in that it is considerably more investigative than martial. While the first novel was an eponymous siege, and the second was based around the recovery of a stolen item, this third is a manhunt that crosses seas and takes place in more than one province. Do not be thrown by the cover, which might suggest a very naval tale. While large sections of the book take place at sea, there are also hefty sections on dry land. With Nick’s usual flair for the dramatic, the plot never lets up and even when you think everything should be over and settled, you look and realise there’s still a hundred pages left and the excitement is far from over.
Character is important in Nick’s books. Containing his protagonists to the three men with a small supporting cast means that the characters get a lot of exposure and shine. Given the huge differences in their character, background and status, the interplay between them is always stunning. The first book saw a great deal of development in Corbulo’s character, and the second did much the same with Simo. Well this third book expands the scope and depth of Indavara nicely. In addition, a few of the supporting cast were beautifully portrayed (I’m thinking particularly of Carnifex and Eborius).
There is, I think, a tendency in Roman fiction to place too much emphasis on authenticity at the expense of readability (while there is also – particularly in the self publishing market- much the opposite.) Nick Brown has hit it just right, I think, to feel authentic and maintain a good level of historical accuracy, and yet not compromise the ease of reading and the touch of modern colloquialism that makes the reader identify with the tale. His speech is realistic and his descriptive atmospheric without being burdensome. In all, the writing is so tight and comfortable that it drags you along apace without the requirement to expend effort.
I would say that in this third installment there are a few moments of predictability that were not there in the first two. Some actions and responses were a little obvious, but do not let that put you off in any way. To some extent it actually helps, given the subject matter. After all, this is basically a spy thriller/action adventure. James Bond would not be James Bond without a little capture and humiliation. Indiana Jones would have suffered had it lost a few of its predictable moments. A sense of anticipation of events helps. Action, excitement and mystery, mixed with a little vicious, bloody violence and a well-rounded tight sense of humour that surfaces at just the right times.
All in all, I would say that The Far Shore is a good, solid, thrilling continuation of the series and a growth of the main characters, while exploring newer, more varied territory.
I look forward to Corbulo’s next foray with impatience.
Read the book. Read all three if you haven’t. You won’t regret it.