If you are considering reading this book, chances are you already acquainted with the Warrior of Rome series. This series is beyond any other historical fiction books I have read in terms of the depth of scholarship, offering an easy education in all aspects of Third Century life from food to art criticism to warfare to religion to culture. I have learned more from Sidebottom's books then I have from any year of college. This volume is no different - no fewer than twenty works are referenced in the Historical Afterward (in three or more languages, at that).
Having said all that, this volume is not the most exciting or inspiring of the series (I would say the second one is). Wolves of the North continues the path began in the Caspian Gates. Ballista and company are out of imperial favor and in exile, following a series of fool's errands seemingly designed to get them killed. Once again we are far away from the siege engines and fortifications of Rome, away from the legions of hardened soldiers. It is a journey beyond the edges of the known world, into the hinterlands of what we now know as the Ukraine and other "Russian states", what was then Barbaricum. Sidebottom reconstructs this world well, successfully conveying the enormity of this draconian land - a land so severe that a man who found himself alone and without a horse was as good as dead. Also well-portrayed (though more cleanly than I had anticipated)are the various barbarian tribes - the red tattooed Heruls and the rugged Alani, especially. One or more reviewers made mention that the Heruls herein seem like Huns. Of course, the time frame of the book is about a hundred years before the heyday of the dreaded Huns began. Far from being sloppy conjecture, Sidebottom is demonstrating something the serious history student has perhaps already discovered: that geography sometimes has more to do with culture than ethnicity does. Within a century and a half the Heruls (and to some extent the Goths, Alani, etc.) had transformed from the familiar pre-viking norse culture we are familiar with to a culture of horse archers with extreme customs. The idea is as old as Herodutus, but is still surprising when it is recognized. Like the Caspian Gates (which featured long sailing scenes that I appreciated), Wolves of the North is almost a travel book set in antiquity, offering a vicarious journey of exploration of lands we will never see.
This book features a sub-plot with a serial killer which is so unforshadowed in the other books that it seems even Sidebottom knew his main plot would need some help. To give no spoilers, between the killer and the losses in the numerous battles along the way there is an extensive shake-up in Ballista's ever-growing entourage. I think what we are seeing here in terms of the series is a preparation to refocus, a brushfire burning away some of the smaller, wilder growth and making the forest stronger.
I for one cannot wait for the next volume, anxious and excited to see where the road will take us next.
- David Rodgers, author of The Songs of Slaves
- MP3 CD
- Publisher: Blackstone on Brilliance Audio (7 August 2018)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 1721323449
- ISBN-13: 978-1721323449
- Product Dimensions: 17.1 x 14 x 1.3 cm
- Boxed-product Weight: 99.8 g
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Amazon Bestsellers Rank:
244,849 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)
- #49972 in Action & Adventure Fiction (Books)