- Audible Audio Edition
- Listening Length: 14 hours and 28 minutes
- Program Type: Audiobook
- Version: Unabridged
- Publisher: Blackstone Audio, Inc.
- Audible.com Release Date: September 29, 2009
- Language: English
- ASIN: B002QX7SA4
- Amazon Best Sellers Rank:
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Fire in the East: Warrior of Rome, Book 1 Audiobook – Unabridged
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The siege was fascinating and it was not obvious how it would end. Okay, I could tell where it was going, but not how it would come about.
This book felt like a potentially good author warming up. I have just completed the second in the series and Sidebottom's writing is better, though he is not at all bad in this one.
The story and characters were fun and I did not want to stop reading. It's been a while since I have felt that way about a book.
I have just placed Amazon orders for books 3, 4, and 5. I'm looking forward to more.
What makes this book, and the series as a whole, worth reading is the profound sense of historical authenticity. Though I am not as much an expert in Roman history many readers may be, I never encountered anything that took me out of the historical setting. We see the Roman Empire as it probably was for most of its inhabitants, not the glorious emperors and marble columns, but the day to day details that make it all come alive.
The book covers the events around the siege of the Roman city of Arete (actually Dura-Europos which was besieged in the mid 250AD period by the Sassanid Persians). This is covered through the eyes of a Roman general named Ballista who is a barbarian from the Denmark area, and works his way up through the late Roman army.
A lot is known about this event, because the Dura-Europos ruins (which are on the Euphrates River at the border of Syria and Iraq) are still visible and the site has been an archaeological dig finding the remains of equipment and even mines of both the Persians and the Romans. The author does a good job of following the known facts in this event and is very creative in adding his own perspectives to the story.
The use of a barbarian to be the general of the Roman garrison is interesting, especially since the first known barbarian generals didn't serve until the 4th century AD.
The role of the Christian sect in the novel was somewhat a surprise to me. Yes, there were known to be Christians in the city (based upon the archaeological digs) but it is not known what perspective they followed (there were a lot of sects and some were heretical and this one may have been close to the Zoroastrianism religion of the Sassanid Persians.) We just don't know - so I gave the author a nod on this role that he set in place and will follow the next book to see what continues here.
All in all, this is an excellent historical novel on Rome focused on an area with some known history but also allowing some freedom of movement. The author does an excellent job of navigating through the facts and takes the opportunity to pursue some creative license. I look forward to his next offering and the one after.
It took me a good deal of time to get into it, and the siege (Not a spoiler, you know that Ballista, our hero, is taking his command to prepare the city of Arete for a siege. Yet that is foretelling, and that is the second troublesome problem with the book. (Now there be spoilers ahead...)
Here we have a doomed city. They are outnumbered 20 to 1, if not more. And even Sun Tzu says have 10 times the number of your opponents if you are sieging them. Here despite those numbers we place our hero and his comrades in the center of it all. Well we know that at Rorke's Drift a superior trained force can survive such numbers. Yet the Persians and the Zulus are not quite the same level of disadvantage against the Romans as the Zulus against the British.
Yet they somehow win! Yes, that's right the Roman's survive, and the action in the later half of the book, as the noose tightens is well worth the trouble. But, foretelling as I mentioned is terrible. When Ballista says double the guard after the victory and the subplot about a traitor not having been resolved, the writing is on the walls and in the book. They are going to be betrayed somehow and the Persians are going to take them.
Perhaps this is the device Sidebottom has come up with to get us to the next book, but as Jack said to Hook, "Bad Form!" I as a reader feel betrayed (That is why no five stars, that and the slow start) I read the book to the end, got all happy that we survived and then the thousands of people saved, the hundreds of Romans who survived, all wiped out for a plot device. A twist that even in foretelling, should have been taken care of. We doubled the guard! The alarm should have been given!
Yet only enough for Ballista and a handful to escape.
A set up for Ballista to realize that he was a pawn to the Co-Emperors need for legions elsewhere in the empire. Yet still, the empire would have more resources to help, and then, they did win. If they were going to be pawned out this way, they did not need to survive the worst of the siege to do so. (And if it has a great deal of political, and Roman intrigue, we needed more of that instead of being introduced to a few spies at the beginning and then the realization of the protagonist at the end.)
Get past the slow and boring beginning, enjoy all the action of the second half, and hope that Sidebottom can build a better book in the rest of the series.