Posts Tagged ‘plot’
I’m sure if you’re reading my blog you’ll already be familiar with Riches’ work, in the form of his late 2nd century ‘Empire’ series. It came as something of a surprise to me last year to learn that while he is still continuing that series, Riches had sidestepped into a slightly earlier era with a trilogy project based on the Batavian Revolt.
For the record, I’m a huge fan of Riches’ Empire series, which has everything I look for in rollicking historical mayhem. But Betrayal is a different beast entirely. It feels considerably more grown-up than the Empire series (which sounds like an insult to Empire, but is not meant as such.) There is just something altogether more serious, thoughtful and… well, grown up… about this series. There’s no other way to put it.
Set during the Year of the Four Emperors, despite my love of Riches’ work, I approached Betrayal nervously. It is an era that has already been plumbed thoroughly by a number of very good writers, and the whole subject has become a little bit stale for me recently, the last good treatment I read being Doug Jackson’s. I needn’t have been concerned. Riches has done himself proud by looking at this oft-viewed piece of history from a new angle and a new point of view, which is impressive.
In fact, the general direction of the book reminded me of Ben Kane’s seemingly preferred angle, taking on a critical event in Roman history from a non-Roman point of view. In this case, it is largely told from the point of view of Civilis, a Batavian officer, with additional angles provided by a number of centurions on different sides of the conflict. And for anyone not familiar with the Year of the Four Emperors, there are most definitely more than two sides to look at.
Initially, I was a little perturbed by the number of angles and viewpoints, to be honest. Be aware that there are a lot of characters and units to familiarise yourself with, and that can require a lot of memory and concentration. But the same could be said with his Empire series, which involves a good number of important supporting characters, and yet that did not take me long to get the hang of. The same is the case here. It did not take too long to start grasping who was who and what was going on.
This is not a straightforward military romp. It is not a ‘swords and sandals adventure’. This is a deeply complex novel and, while it revolves around military units, the first book revolves more around the political machinations of powerful men, tribal politics and the strengths and failings of a number of imperial personas. In fact, battle scenes are rare for a Riches novel, with good in-your-face combat early and late in the story, sandwiching a knotty plot that is treated with respect and intelligence.
And the win for me? It gave me a new respect for the Batavians and their place in Roman history. Made me appreciate and consider the part they played in the early empire and the individuality of a people I had always rather lumped in as ‘one of those tribes.’
This is a superb book, and the start of what promises to be a cracking trilogy, given how this builds, and how it ends. The book is out on March 9th, and I suggest you pre-order it now or set a reminder to buy it in a fortnight!
Well, sort of.
I have just spent a magnificent long weekend in Gilsland on the Northumberland/Cumbria border with my lovely wife and children and with Gordon Doherty (of Legionary and Strategos fame) and his wonderful better half.
Gordon’s current portfolio:
Now the weekend was a particularly good one for three distinct reasons:
Firstly: Location. Our holiday cottage was close enough to Hadrian’s Wall (or at least the turf ridge that marks its passage) that I could have hit it with a thrown weasel, had I had one to hand. That kind of proximity to the ancient always gets my blood and imagination going. It also meant that in our available time we had the chance to visit a number of Roman sites (Birdoswald, Chesters, Poltross Burn, Willowford, and the Greenhead Roman Army Museum. Now that in itself is superb and worthy of pictorial memoirs and so here we go. Time to clog up your browser, broadband and memory with a run of photos:
1. Two JAFRAs (in-joke term for a Roman Author) posing in their place of work. Do ya think we’re sexy?
2. In case you didn’t get the details! Heh heh heh
3. The Eastern wall and main east gate of Birdoswald (Banna) Roman fort in glorious sunshine.
4. Marcus investigating every crevice of the Roman world.
5. Tracey, Marcus and Callie taking in the view from the walls of Birdoswald.
6. Simon (me) and my poser of a boy Marcus at Birdoswald. Future catalogue model in the making, you think?
7. Poltross burn milecastle at Gilsland. One of the most sloping, geographically-challenged of all British Roman sites. Bet they never played dominoes or tried to eat soup from a shallow bowl!
8. Renowned author of late Roman and Byzantine novels Gordon Doherty surveys his domain from the top of the wall. He is clearly uninspired by the railway fencing and the other tourists!
9. Marcus tries to recreate Willowford’s early 3rd century Roman bridge by dropping stones into the river one at a time.
10. Gordon appears to like Willowford.
11. A detail shot of the three stages of bridge abutment at Willowford for those interested in real historical things rather than just posturing or…
12. Pictures of WILLIES!!!!
13. Chesters museum hasn’t changed much since Victoria was on the throne, but that just makes it all the better for me. Great, isn’t it?
14. Marcus and Callie seem to like it anyway. I think Marcus just squeezed one out, looking at that…
15. Too cool for school. Gordon Doherty and S.J.A. Turney trying to look normal among the barrack blocks of the cavalry fort of Cilurnum (Chesters)
16. Callie and Marcus making no attempt to look normal and yet still beating us at the game…
17. Deep in discussion. Come on, ladies… two Roman fiction authors in a hot baths together… phwoooaaarrrhhh!!! Or… not.
18. Callie tries to work out why her boat won’t float.
19. Gordon Doherty being tour guide and discussing the relative heights of original floor level in a Roman bath house.
20. Simon and Gordon take a seat in the apodyterium (changing room). It was too cold for just a subligaculum and wooden clogs!
21. The underfloor heating of the Commanding Officer’s baths. Now if only they’d been working. Oooh that chill wind….
22. The ancient military meets the modern. Love this shot that wifey took: Chinook helicopters over Hadrian’s Wall. Bet the Caledonii would have been a pushover had Agricola got his hands on a couple of those…
The second reason the weekend was good? Well, because of great friends and family. Gordon and his wife are excellent company and the weekend was just comfortable and great fun.
But the third reason: It was not all fun. In fact, only half of it was having a beer and gallivanting around the Roman sites. The rest of it involved Gordon and I sitting in a room surrounded by laptops, pads and pens and reference books while we took the bare idea of a plot we had a while back and hammered it out before folding it and adding a keen edge and turning it into a fully fledged story right down to a chapter plan. Yes, as you may have noted on Twitter or Facebook, Gordon and I will shortly be embarking on a collaborative project and the story we have so far is fabulous. I mean, it’s going to knock your socks off, so you’d best send home to mummy for more with the next delivery (Vindolanda joke – sad, I know.) But it really is a stunning idea. We will start to release occasional teasers once we’re properly involved in the writing, which will being some time after the release of Gordon’s Strategos II and my Marius’ Mules V. I will simply leave you with these images to give you something to chew on….
Have a really nice week, folks. Will be back the day after tomorrow with a book review and then something else at the weekend.
That’s the important and salient point to this post. Big things are happening at chez moi these days. I have been putting together my initial plan for a new novel. I won’t be putting spoilers on here, and I’m not revealing anything about the plot in advance, but it led me to thinking what I would want to read when piecing together the plot. Here’s my list of what I’m looking for and paying attention to:
- A point. The novel has to actually have a story that begins, grows and reaches a conclusion, whether that be good or bad.
- Character. Characters that elicit no emotion in the reader are merely scenery. A character has to have some depth and make you want to read.
- Interplay. Characters should interact as though they’re alive and not merely the scenery mentioned above. There will likely be cameraderie and conflict.
- Action. No novel, in the vein of historic fiction at least, can really hook without some good actions scenes.
- Humour, suspense, fear, sadness, exultation, pride. At least three of those six emotions present for the reader, but preferably all of them.
- Historical accuracy. I am beginning to be more of a stickler in this matter. I have been lax at times in the past. No more.
- A feeling for time and place. A feeling of being immersed in the culture.
These are my current thoughts.
Anyone care to add anything?