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Fire in the East (Warrior of Rome, Book 1) Paperback – September 29, 2009

4.1 out of 5 stars 95 customer reviews
Book 1 of 6 in the Warrior of Rome Series

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

In this blood and guts tale of ancient warfare, Oxford lecturer Sidebottom introduces readers to Marcus Clodius Bastilla, a third-century warrior who has risen through the ranks of the Roman army to achieve citizenship and the honorific of Dux Ripea. Charged by the emperors Valerian and Gallienus with the responsibility of defending the empire's eastern borders, Bastilla says good-bye to his new wife and sets sail for the East. Once he arrives at the Syrian city of Arete on the banks of the Euphrates, Bastilla organizes his legionaries to defend against the besieging Sassanid Persian army and hold out until reinforcements can arrive. In addition to having his hands full with the invading army, Bastilla must also deal with traitors, saboteurs, assassins and patrician officers who resent obeying the orders of a low-born superior. How the brave and resourceful former barbarian defends himself from forces both within and without the city walls forms the spine of this action-packed and detail-rich narrative. This novel of sharp swords and blunt wit should find an appreciative audience among bloodthirsty battle boys of all ages. (Oct.)
Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.


'Sidebottom's prose blazes with searing scholarship' The Times 'A well-constructed, well-paced and gripping account' TLS 'The best sort of red-blooded historical fiction' - Andrew Taylor, author of 'The American Boy' --This text refers to the Hardcover edition.

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Product Details

  • Paperback: 433 pages
  • Publisher: Overlook Press; Original edition (September 29, 2009)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 1590202465
  • ISBN-13: 978-1590202463
  • Product Dimensions: 8.2 x 5.2 x 1 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.5 pounds (View shipping rates and policies)
  • Average Customer Review: 4.1 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (95 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #642,347 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

Customer Reviews

Top Customer Reviews

By Jason Golomb VINE VOICE on April 12, 2010
Format: Paperback
Fire in the East is a strong newcomer in the category of Roman Military Historical Fiction. The book is smart, finely detailed, violent and exciting.

Author Harry Sidebottom is a published professor of ancient history and he draws very detailed accounts of all aspects of Roman military life in the mid 3rd Century. This is the true victory of what's intended to be a 3-book series titled "Warriors of Rome". Few historical fictions contain the detailed notes, glossary and bibliography that Sidebottom presents in "Fire". He's clearly done his research, and worked his academics into his richly built story.

The core of the story is quite simple. A barbarian from the north, Ballista, climbs the ranks of the Roman Military (quite common during the second and third centuries in the Roman Empire), and is assigned to lead the defenses of a key city on the far eastern outskirts of the Empire. He's strong, smart, witty, emotionally tortured, loyal, and blonde. The fictional city is called Arete, nestled on two sides by deep ravines, on another side by the might Euphrates river, and on the fourth by a desert. Roman intellegence reports that the Sassinid Empire is planning a springtime attack on the city. It's Ballista's job to prepare for a siege and lead the defense of this important outpost at the crossroads of the Eastern World.

While the details are painted with colorful details and make the story unique, Sidebottom has turned a specific kind of military event into as strong of a character as any of the Roman or Persian good and bad guys alike. The true star of "Fire" is the siege - the machinations of defense and attack. Sidebottom tells of ballistae, hidden pits, spies and city-taking siege towers. etc.
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Format: Paperback
I'm slightly surprised by some of the lukewarm reviews of this book. Personally I thought it was one of the best historical novels about the Roman Empire that I've ever read. It's certainly superior to the Cato-Macro novels of Simon Scarrow although they are entertaining reads in themselves.

Fire in the East is set in 255AD, right in the middle of the 235-284AD imperial crisis which almost brought down the Roman Empire. The main character is Marcus Clodius Ballista, a soldier of barbarian origins who has risen in imperial favour. He is accompanied by his Hibernian bodyguard Maximus and body servant Calgacus. Ballista is appointed Dux Ripae and ordered to hold the town of Arete on the Euphrates river which is under serious threat of being captured by the Sassanid Persians. Arete is actually a fictional place but heavily modeled on Dura-Europos, a site that has yielded much archaeological evidence on the state of Rome's eastern frontier in the early centuries AD.

Ballista must organize the townspeople of Arete and his own limited military forces, some of whom are working against him, to meet the forthcoming attack. At the same time he must also face his own personal demons.

The author's descriptions of ancient siege warfare and Roman third century military tactics is absolutely first rate and he has the ability to create an almost totally convincing historical environment. You constantly feel that you are walking the streets of a Roman town with real third century people. There is suspense as Ballista tries to get to the bottom of treachery within Arete and some sexual tension with the daughter of a town official. This is a real page turner!

Fire in the East is the first book of a trilogy and I am already half way through the second book of the three. It must be pretty obvious that I loved this book and I unreservedly give it 5 stars.
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Format: Paperback
Sidebottom mischieviously admits he's chosen this period of Roman rule (circa 250 AD) to write about because so little is known about it. So he's free to invent characters and situations to hang his story on, and he does an entertaining, if workmanlike, job. History fans will love his sketch of everyday life in a Roman outpost near Mesopotamia, as well as his thorough explanation of the dynamics of siege warfare. Plot and characterization take a back seat, though-- you'll likely figure out who the bad guy is before the big reveal-- well, the not-so-big reveal. This is the first of a planned trilogy, so if you like it, there's 1200 more pages to enjoy. I'll be looking forward to them.

If you're seeking better stuff from Rome (250 years before), try Robert Graves' "I, Claudius" or Robert Harris' novels "Imperium" and "Conspirata." Also fun is Gary Jenning's 1000-pager on the collapsed empire 300 years after Sidebottom's book, "Raptor."
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Format: Paperback
This period in Roman History is rarely fictionized, and Professor Sidebottom made this extremely alluring period the backstage of his series. It has culture clash, rising misticism, internal strife and suspicion, cover ops with the frumentarii, a charismatic main character - Balista, and a powerfull almost unstoppable enemy force - the Mazdaistic Sassanid Persians.

Balista (it really existed an Roman officer with this name, altough as the author states he most probably wasn't anglo-saxon) - as Dux Ripae - is charged with defending the East against the rising menace. But without reinforcements and facing the hostility of local forces, his job isn't an easy one.

Arete (based on Dura-Europos) is extremely vivid, and realistic caravan factions oppose each other for power in the city. Other power groups, like local military forces and religious powers must also be taken into account.

Balista will face murder mysteries, corruption and treason; all while facing the armies of the Sassanians and their belief that their righteous fight will eliminate evil from the world.

The battle and siege sequences are absolutely stunning - great in every detail. This novel has nonetheless a few weaknesses; the author uses frequently the same ideas and although a good writer, I believe he'll get much better in the future. Also the mystery is extremelly simple to solve for anyone who knows a little about history...the author leaves so many clues that it's almost impossible not to notice!


In my opinion, the traitor lacks somewhat a motive...between the Romans and the Sassanids, it's hard to believe that the choice would be the second one...
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