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Posts Tagged ‘Carthage

The Great King (Long War 4)

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We’re well and truly Arimnestos’ captive audience now. We’ve seen him grow and become the warrior, the leader, the sailor, the merchant, the pirate, the explorer. But the third volume in the series, while being a departure that took us on a great adventure, ended with us coming full circle, back to old friends and right back into the heart of what our friend the Plataean had for so long left behind.

And so The Great King picks up from that moment. This book will take you to amazing places and see astounding things, and interestingly, it includes two of the greatest and most important pivotal moments in Greek history, though the reader will not be aware of this initially, since the book’s title refers to neither directly. I will try to hint and explain without spoilers.

To some extent, ignoring the divisions into parts that are handed us, I would say there are three distinct parts to The Great King. The Games. The Journey. The War. And throughout the three parts, certain themes wind and develop.

Our friend Ari finds himself in the company of old Persian friends and in the odd situation of having to help the enemy of his people form alliances with Carthage against Greece due to his old oaths. Of course, we also know that Ari’s great personal nemesis – Dagon – is Carthaginian and that there can be no doubt that these two will meet again.

And, having delivered Persian ambassadors to hated Carthage, Ari finds himself in the company of a Spartan athlete who seeks passage to Olympia for the games. Thus opens part one, in which we are treated to a stunning and fairly in-depth depiction of the Olympic Games, entwined with plots and enmities between competing states, and a gathering of some of the most important men in Greece to discuss what to do about the Great King in Persia, who has begun preparations for the invasion of Greece on a grand scale. Here a new thread in the tale is opened and in addition to the wonderful material about the games, we are treated to a great introduction to Sparta and the Spartans. This famous state and its people had, you might remember, fought against Arimnestos with his Plataeans and their Athenian allies four books ago. Frankly, with this new insight into Sparta (who I’d always thought of as complete tossers) I have suddenly found that I love them and their leaders in Cameron’s tale. And the Spartans are a theme that will play out throught the book.

With the ending of the games, Ari goes home and tries to put his house in order, and this is nice to see from the point of view of the character’s progression, but is something of an aside in the main plot.

For soon, Ari is bound for the heart of the enemy’s lands. He is tasked with taking Spartan heralds to the court of the Great King of Persia. Despite his Persian friends, guarantees of passage and so much more, there is tremendous danger in the exotic Persian court. Here we are treated to the most fascinating clash of cultures – the rigid, haughty, ascetic Spartans and the languid, oiled and perfumed, glittering Persians. But you know, if you have any inkling of what’s to come in Greek history (and if you’ve been paying attention in the book’s first half) that nothing can really come of this, barring intelligence gathering, for Xerxes of Persia will not be turned from his course of war.

And so we move into the third part of the plot for me, as Arimnestos returns from the great journey. There follows an odd little interlude of sailing, trading and piracy, and then, finally comes the main event. I won’t spoil it. You might already know what’s coming, but for those who don’t I won’t give the game away. Suffice it to say that the war now begins in earnest and one of the greatest moments in the world’s military history will come to pass. You will read lines early on that will reveal what is to come. The last part of this book contains the opening salvos of the greatest war the states of Greece ever fought. It contains battles on land and sea, Ari’s quest for revenge against Dagon, and pivotal moments that will leave you breathless and exhausted.

As with all the Long War books (and all Cameron’s work, in fact) the writing is excellent. It is at once immediate and action packed, and yet thoughtful and educational. A weight of knowledge and a wealth of powerful and heady descriptive is conveyed without sacrificing pace, excitement, humour and horror.

And you know what? Thank good old Zeus that Salamis (book 5) is out tomorrow, because when you read the end of The Great King, you’ll really not want to wait. Check in tomorrow for my last review in the Long War series.

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Poseidon’s Spear (Long War 3)

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So where can Cameron take us? Arimnestos of Plataea is a grown man now, fully trained and experienced. He has fought in and won one of the greatest battles of the age. But after Marathon, the world has changed, and so has our hero. Life as he has known it has gone.

It is all too wasy for a writer with a series to fall into a rut. Too easy to just keep telling the same story over and over again with minor variations or just to continue to tell a saga in fairly repetitive chunks. A few authors will, once their series is settled, run off at a tangent to explore new ideas and new themes and styles. It can be a gamble, as some readers will always just want more of the same. But if it’s done right it can invigorate and frshen an ongoing series. Sort of like a sorbet palate cleanser between courses. With Poseidon’s Spear, Cameron has done just that.

This is not a tale of war or family. It is not a tale of Greeks and Persians. This is the very spirit of adventure. A series of events conspire to see Ari at sea once more, where he falls foul of the powerful and dangerous Carthaginians and finds himself a slave, tortured and tested to the limit of his endurance. Really, there is too much in terms of twists and turns, changes and stories in this tale to relate them individually, and that would just ruin the book for you. Essentially, once he is freed from the clutches of the unpleasant Carthaginian ‘Dagon’ he sets off on his greatest adventure, collecting new friends on the way, including other former slaves.

The Carthaginians control the trade in tin, which is needed by smiths and armourers across the Mediterranean world, and Ari and his friends soon form a plan to secure tin and make themselves rich. Not through trade with Massalia or Carthaginian Spain, but by going directly to the source: a misty, cold semi-mythical island far to the north that one day will be Britain. Of course, to get there by ship requires that a sailor pass the Pillars of Hercules and sail out into the great western ocean. In those days, with the ships of the Greek world, such a journey was all but impossible and only legendary sailors of myth had done so comfortably.

This begins a journey that will see Romans and Africans and Greeks and Gauls sharing ships, making and losing fortunes, finding and losing loves, all as they journey in search of the source of tin. In the process, Ari will pick up an Illyrian prince (whose own fate forms the last part of the book), become a hunted man and an enemy of Carthage, shed his preconceptions of the non-Greek world and open himself to the great wealth of experience that is the west.

For the reader, seeing the Pre-Roman west through the eyes of a wonder-filled Greek is a fascinating process, and it certainly made me wish I could go back and rewrite some of the Gallo-Roman work I have penned with one eye on this fascinating portrayal of the world.

As always, Cameron’s experiences with the military and reenactment inform his text and give everything a realism and accuracy that few could match. But what came across more in book 3 was the surprising level of knowledge the author seems to have concerning the world of ancient ships and sailing. I can only assume that among his talents and experience, Cameron has also sailed ships somewhat. And I am quite stunned by his portrayal of pre-Roman France, Spain and Britain, considering Cameron’s Canadian residence and American nationality. It feels accurate and immersive.

All in all, a departure for the series, a wonderful palate cleanser, and yet at the same time a great continuation of the saga of Arimnestos of Plataea. Oh, and the conclusion? Well Ari has now a new and great enemy out there somewhere we know will come up again, but also the end scenes come as something of a surprise, and set up the opening of book 4 beautifully. So drop by tomorrow for the review of The Great King

Clouds of War

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Hooray, hooray, it’s released today…

Those of you who’ve not already had it on pre-order, scurry along and buy a copy of Ben Kane’s latest opus today. Why? I’ll tell you why…

Hannibal has always been my favourite of Ben’s novels, and therefore the series my fave of his series. The first novel (Hannibal: Enemy of Rome) was a stunning delve into not only a period of Roman history that’s not often dealt with, but also into the nature of love and friendship in a time of brutal war. It was simply excellent. The second book (Fields of Blood), though not quite topping the dizzying heights of the first book, was also a fine work, delivering just what the title suggested as Carthaginians and Romans fought desperately across Italy. Book three, simply, is a bloody triumph in every way.

It must be hard (and as a man who writes myself, I can really feel this) to tell the third story in a series in which the three main characters are on opposing sides in a war and outside the war entirely and yet engineer a plot in which the three interact. I mean, it would be easy enough to do so if you didn’t mind it feeling trite, contrived, implausible and basically fairly poo. And yet for the third time in a row, Kane has done so, and this time best of all, with a looming expectation of doomed meetings swept aside and the result a truly realistic, serendipitous calamity.

The fact that the action takes place in a limited scope lends C.O.W. a tightness that some novels lack. Though it takes place over two years and the time stretches on at points, the geographical limits (all within the Island of Sicily and perhaps 3 places thereon) provides a very strong, tight situation.

Kane has clearly taken some of the most famous moments in Roman history into this novel, but more than that, he has visited their sites, lived their lives and felt the atmosphere there and this shows through in the work. It is full of life, colour, vigour and stunning realism. Whether it is military action, civilian sacrifice, base cunning, or noble honour, they are all displayed with real understanding.

Highlights for me include…

No spoiler here, I reckon. The moment you know it’s Punic Wars and Sicily (which is very early in the book) you will expect the siege of Syracuse. This is one of the most famous of all Roman military engagements, and involved some of the most outlandish and astounding actions. And you will devour the first assault hungrily.

The action in Enna is perhaps some of the most poignant and harrowing work I’ve ever read. It shows how deeply Kane can make you feel for even a passing character.

And the last section of the book? Well, I won’t go into spoiler details, but it rivals Doug Jackson’s treatment of the defence of Colchester in Hero of Rome, and that remains one of my most powerful scenes of any book. The tense, fraught excitement it builds is second only to the continual flip-flopping between hope and despair, hope and despair, hope and despair. Really it has to be read to be experienced, so that alone is a reason to buy.

The characters have grown since book 2, let alone book 1. They are more adult and react appropriately (and Kane as always pulls no damn punches when putting them in situations to elicit such a reaction). But the reappearance of at least one super S.O.B. adds villainy to the tale, and the appearance of at least one new hero adds joy.

In conclusion, Clouds of War is tight, well-written and exciting, full of colour, and realistic and even heartbreaking in places as one could imagine it might be. It is character driven and is a feast to the imagination.

I, for one, cannot wait for book 4.

Written by SJAT

February 27, 2014 at 8:00 am

Seven Wonders

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So, I was watching the Big Bang Theory and listening to its rather catchy theme tune, and noted the mention of the Wall and the Pyramids, which got me to thinking about what Herodotus would have included on his list of Wonders of the Ancient World if he had had access to more exotic places? The Great Wall would probably not have been one, since the wall as we know it is much later, the early versions not being up to Herodotus’ mark, I feel. And that led me to wondering what my Seven Wonders would be. So I’ve set myself the task to work it out.

The criteria must be the same as those available in the ancient world when ‘roddy wrote that list that rested in the library of Alexandria. Of the original seven wonders, only tiny fragments remain of most of them. Only the Great Pyramid at Giza still stands entire. So my seven wonders must be there and visible. I am going to allow ‘ruinous’ of course. And I must have been there. How can I compile a recommended list if I haven’t seen them?

1. The Pyramids of Giza

Image by Ricardo Liberato via Wikimedia Commons

Yes, the only survivor from the original list. Who could deny they’re a wonder? Quite simply they are breathtaking. Sadly, with every year, they are a little more invisible through hordes of tourists. Every year the urban sprawl of Cairo gets a little nearer to enveloping them. Already between the two visits I made to this amazing site (in 1982 and 2006) the city moved frighteningly closer. And given the troubles in Egypt, one has to fear for their future safety. But still… they remain an icon of the past and rightly so. Nice one, Herodotus!

2. The Ayia Sofya (or Haghia Sophia)

Image by Philz via Wikimedia Commons

Not around until long after our Roddy made his list. The great church of Holy Wisdom was started by Constantine II, and there were several rebuilds between 360AD and 532 when the current structure was commissioned by Justinian. It is simply the most breathtaking religious building I have ever set foot in. It is a symbol of Europe and Turkey and Byzantium and Rome, the blueprint for the Ottoman mosques for half a millennium. Among the fascinating oddities to be found within are runic carvings by one of the Viking Varangian Guard of the Byzantine Emperor who went by the name of Halfdan. The place leaves me speechless.

3. The amphitheatre of Pozzuoli

Image by Ferdinando Marfella via Wikimedia Commons

The Colosseum is magnificent, yes. El Jem is wondrous. I am led to believe Pula’s amphitheatre is astounding. Yet surprisingly few people mention the great Flavian amphitheatre of Pozzuoli in Italy (near Naples.) It’s only a little smaller than the Colosseum (3rd largest in Italy), constructed only a few years later, and is easily better preserved than any of those previous three I mentioned. It is simply astounding to walk around and beneath. While I find most amphitheatres to be dead, emotionless structures (while still wondrous), the one at Pozzuoli sent a shiver through me. I felt loss there. Perhaps it is too intact not to?

4. The Siq at Petra

Image by David Bjorgen via Wikimedia Commons

I guess everyone knows this because of Indiana Jones if nothing else. But Petra blew my mind. All of it. You can’t see Petra in a day. You can’t see it all in 3 days. But the core area, in particular the Siq are easily taken in. The siq was a crevasse through the rock that contituted the main entrance to the city. It is astounding to walk through. Roman paving is visible beneath your feet and an aqueduct channel runs along at your side, dry for millennia. Carvings crop up here and there, and tombs are visible high in the rocks. And in places where the Siq opens up, you find carved monuments such as the Treasury (see above). How could that NOT make it to a list of the great seven?

5. Hadrian’s Wall

Image by Michael Hanselmann via Wikimedia Commons

I can”t imagine I need to do much enthusing about Hadrian’s Wall. It is quite simply one of the most amazing and evocative monuments in the world. Not only was it a feat of sheer engineering and planning brilliance, but it also marks something unique. It represents that very moment when Rome stopped expanding and defined borders. Until Hadrian, the idea that Rome had a limit was a flight of fancy. Despite the Roman influence that continued beyond the wall, for that reason alone, Hadrian’s wall marks the edge of the Roman world for me.

6. The Baths of Caracalla

Image by Pascal Reusch via Wikimedia Commons

There are many great bath houses of Roman construction, even in Rome. The baths of Trajan and Diocletian remain. Further afield, those of Licinius in Dougga, or Antoninus in Carthage. But those of Caracalla stand as a testament to the sheer scale of such monuments. The remaining decoration; the enormous walls; the supplying aqueduct and cistern; Mind-blowing. And, though not open to the visitor, the underground passages remain, with rooms and furnaces, shrines and more. It is, to me the height of the Roman bath house and will ever remain so.

7. The harbour of Carthage

By Anonymous [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons

The navy that actually beat Rome! Yes, Carthage for a while actually held the might of Rome at bay. They had the most advanced navy in the world, in history in fact. And the military harbour at Carthage was a wonder worthy of that fleet. Take a look at the picture above, as it survivies today. Upon a time, imagine this image, but with the circle complete, both the island’s edge and the outer circuit home to endless what are essentially hangars for warships. Room for around 300 warships to be berthed, each in its own building on an inland port with swift access to the sea by a channel. On the island’s centre was the admiralty. I stood on that road on the left side of the picture a few years ago and was simply stunned into silence.

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So there you go. That’s my Seven Wonders of the Ancient World. Now, all those of you who blog… let’s hear yours? I’m intrigued.

Written by SJAT

November 24, 2011 at 3:10 pm