Twelve books in and Simon is still writing like he has something to prove. After a bit of a Macro/Cato hiatus, Simon takes us back to the Roman legion with all the action and blood that we have grown to love. And expect. But this story had a weird... feel to it. I read this book so pissed at Cato that I was actually rooting against him.
After having themselves soiled with having to do the bidding of Narcissus, Centurion Macro and Prefect Cato are finally able to do some "decent soldiering". Unfortunately it's on the dreadful island of Britannia with all of the charm and luxury that she affords. Caratacus is still harassing the Empire and the Emperor needs to put him down. You know... especially since the Emperor stated "mission accomplished" a few years back.
Caratacus and his band of barbarians are as brutal a group as Rome has fought. Death on the battlefield is seen by most ancient tribes as the honorable way for a warrior to die. However, if you're fighting Caratacus and happen to live through it, death might be seen as deliverance. But despite the brutality of the barbarians, it pales in comparison to our new king of the ball, Centurion Quertus. This is where my contemptuous for Cato begins and also where this exciting story starts to get even better.
Quertus is a soldier who takes immense pleasure in breaking the locals. And by breaking I mean abject slaughter. The twist here is that he's not entirely out of line with his orders, just his methods. And he should probably take a remedial course on 'How to Treat Superiors 101'. Prefect Cato has been ordered to take command of the fort and he finds he must fight the enemy as well as rogue Romans.
Simon has written antagonist in his books before, but few have made me hate them the way Quertus did. I hated him with such fervor that I started to hate Cato for being... well... Cato. Macro on the other hand was exactly what you would expect. Matter of fact, near the end of this book he is put in a situation and well... shocking and brutal is all I can say. I loved it!
Through all the pain, broken bones, and spilt blood Simon still manages to show us the glory of Rome. As I mentioned earlier, this is the twelfth book in the series and it's as strong as the rest of them. Good can only shine if there is darkness. With Caratacus roasting Roman soldiers on the outside and Centurian Quertus being an insubordinate ass on the inside, Cato and Macro are stuck in it. Bad for our legionaries, good for us readers. Simon Scarrow is a definite leader in the increasingly crowded field of Roman historical-fiction. Books like this continue to prove that.