I enjoyed this one no end! This review only covers vol. 1 in a trilogy about the Roman fortress Eboracum, from village to wooden fortress to final stone incarnation. The whole trilogy is the sagas of two families, one Roman and one Brigantian, spanning a little more than 50 years: 71-122 AD in Britannia, set against this background. The Brigantian family is headed by a minor chieftain, Cethen Lamh-fada [Cethen of the long arms], vassal of Venutius and Vellocatus, who are serial husbands of Cartimandua, the Roman former client Queen. The Roman family is headed by Gaius Sabinius Trebonius, Tribune [and Engineer] in the Roman army. Gaius is tasked with building a new fortress for the 9th Legio Hispana. The location he chooses is that of the village of Cethen's tuath. The local inhabitants are displaced to Stannick, a hill-fort; the village is reduced to rubble; and the construction of Ebor [Place of the Yews] begins. There's been a prisoner exchange agreed to, Gaius for the captured Venutius. Venutius escapes by diving from the Roman ship. Even so, Cethen feels honor-bound to keep to the agreement when Gaius loses his footing on the slippery dock and topples into the river Abus. Starting with the rescue of Gaius by Cethen from drowning, the two families' lives become more and more intertwined through the years.
I liked that each of the two men was not absolutely heroic all through the novel; in fact both acted like real jerks sometimes; each could be inept or stupid in his own way. I could have clouted each on more than one occasion. The characters were strong, especially the stubborn, feisty Elena, Cethen's wife; the pragmatic although odious Cartimandua; and Cian, Cethen's insouciant, irreverent, big-mouthed brother. [We've probably all known a Cian along the line somewhere. :) ] Even more minor characters such as children, in-laws, or the unpredictable, moody Governor Petilius Cerialis were well-drawn. The various skirmishes, ambushes, and the pitched battles at 'Bran's Beck' and at Stannick [Venutius' defeat] were just as good as descriptions of others I've read elsewhere: vivid but not bloodbaths. I liked the author's postulation that perhaps Cartimandua betrayed Caradoc to the Romans as part of a bargain: she turned him over to the Romans in exchange for keeping him alive. I felt the novel was well-written and kept my interest throughout. Historical research was impeccable. I'm eager to follow next generations of the families.
I came across this novel through Good-reads and embarked on it without much hope since I've read (the beginning of) a lot of very badly written novels set in Roman Britain. But this, to my delight was not one of them. It's extremely well written, with characters who for the most part are older people, and who are complex, contradictory, conflicted and, at times, very funny. The main protagonists are on either side of the Roman/Native Britain conflict in the first century when Rome was expanding its way into the tribal areas of the Brigantes. The author skilfully manages to win the reader's sympathy for both sides of the equation. The different cultures of each are convincingly drawn and the history of the period, about which not much is known, is totally believable and conveyed without any undue 'info-dumps'. 'Historical' figures, of varying degrees of historicity, such as Cerealis (well-attested), Venutius and Vellocatus (less so) are no mere stock heroes or villains but have their own complexities and motivations. I just loved this book and was only disappointed that, like all books, it had to come to an end. However, this is only the first of a trilogy, so I'm already looking forward to the next. Thank you Goodreads for introducing me to this author.