This is probably a man’s book. It is immensely long and most of it is about fighting. The author has certainly done his research; he has studied Roman history, even to the extent, he tells us, of kitting himself out in authentic Roman legionary’s kit and going for long marches in it to find out how it felt. He has himself served in the US marines and uses that experience to imagine how a Roman soldier would have acted and felt. He does this well. He pulls few punches – except possibly about rape – and the battle and massacre scenes are vividly described and truly shocking. This is war as it must have been for those in Caesar’s armies – horrible, personal, and bloody. It is also quite amazing and sobering, for someone who has not specialized in this period, to read of the size of the armies of the Gauls which the Romans – mostly – defeated; not just Asterix and Obelix, but hundreds of thousands of men from many different tribes. These ancient wars were no sideshow, but a colossal struggle for dominance.
Despite its length, the book is well written and easy to read. There are several maps at the beginning, but the kindle doesn’t do maps well, and if I had read it in a print edition I would have hoped for many more smaller maps to illustrate the different battles, the tactics of which are not always easy to follow completely. The author provides a glossary of Latin phrases, but those which I searched for in it, such as acies triplex, were not there. The story is told by the hero, Titus Pullus, in the first person. He is a wholly believable character, as are his friend Vibius and the other legionaries, but there are only two necessarily minor female characters, and because the story is constructed around a series of campaigns which the soldiers have little choice but to follow, it lacks the dramatic tension common to most novels, where the story is driven by the choices and decisions the characters make.
Nonetheless the story is very readable, very memorable, and a considerable achievement. Caesar’s army brought to life.