Wednesday, January 28, 2009

Legion - William Altimari

Flashing swords, mysterious barbarian women, and the glory that was Rome. All the ingredients for a fine historical novel. Well, first off, why, oh why did they decide to put the ENTIRE PLOT on the backcover blurb, I mean, Rise and Fall of the Roman Empire is common knowledge, but did they need to reveal all the details? In fact, the biggest twist reveals are right there, there is not even a semblance of surprise to be had. Now, that's not a book killer by itself, so lets get to the meat of the book. Hopefully with a minimum of spoilers.

The author introduces us to the Roman world through the Greek-Diocles-a convenient mouthpiece that tosses soft ball questions to the soldiers and officers of the Legion. And inevitably we end up with page after page of various characters extoling the virtues of Rome. Now, I'm not going to deny that Rome was the top dog civilization with advanced weapons and tactics, but do we really need to hear about it every third page? Especially once Superma-I mean Centurion Rufio turns up, a better woodsman than the natives, can take on trained killers without a scratch, an marksman without equal, leaps tall Gauls in a single bound! Rome personified, standing between the unwashed(literally) Germans and the fabled cities of Rome! With a surprisingly modern morality, about two millenia before its time, freeing slaves, and spending most of his life redeeming himself for what was more or less an accidental killing during battle. Can we lay it on any thicker here people?

On the other hand, it wasn't all bad. If you can swallow all of that without gagging too badly, the book is actually a pretty easy read. Or at least I was hooked in by the rattle of arms and armor, the dust kicked up by sandaled feet, and flashing swords of some red blooded battle sequences. Now, if Altimari had focused on that aspect, as opposed to Rome/Rufio being the next best thing to the savior of civilization, then things might not have been so bad. The "mysterious barbarian woman" who is really no mystery at all due to the back blurb also provides some good moments, along with the overly sappy ones that follow. Random love story in a time of war, sometimes it works, sometimes it doesn't. It was nice to have the interlude, but it could have been easily toned down, going from sappy romantic interlude to battle, well...jarring to say the least.

There are better books out there about the same subject matter. This one isn't horrendously bad, but it can easily be skipped. The area where it does the best in my opinion is the description of Legion life, and a quick trip to wikipedia will save you the purchase price. Nice for some escapist afternoon, but no need to search this one out.