TITLE: Field of Mars (Complete Edition: Parts 1-3)
AUTHOR: David Rollins
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHED: 8th October 2015
PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
MOBILISM LINK: Field of Mars: The Complete Novel by David Rollins
David Rollins's novel, Field of Mars, very pleasantly surprised me; it is everything I hoped it might be. David Rollins is a new author to me having departed from his usual genre of suspense thrillers to write a book that provides an answer to the question that has perplexed not only the author but quite a number of historians of the Roman era: What happened to the remnants of Crassus’s army, the 40,000 Roman legionaries defeated at the battle of Carrhae?
Very little is actually known or written about Crassus’s invasion of Parthia and particularly his defeat at Carrhae. David Rollins has set out to remedy this lack of knowledge in his planned series of books covering this period of history. The books are available as three separate parts or as the complete edition that includes parts 1-3, and which forms the basis of this review.
The first part covers the Roman period 53-54C, 10 years before the assassination of Julius Caesar and a few years before the first Triumvirate of Caesar, Pompey, and Crassus. The motivations for Crassus to invade Parthia are made clear—having amassed a huge fortune in land speculation and dodgy business practices, what was left to achieve for Rome’s richest man? He craved the one thing gold couldn’t buy him—gravitas or imperium, which could only be achieved by victory on the battlefield and the subsequent awarding of a military Triumph—the parade through Rome by a victorious General. Only this could elevate Crassus to a level equivalent to a level with his fellow Triumvir’s Pompey and Caesar in his mind.
Without the official consent of the senate, Proconsul Crassus, Governor of Syria marched his army of approximately 40,000 legionaries through the deserts of Mesopotamia to utter annihilation by General Surena of the Persian army that fielded a numerically inferior force. The decisive battle took place just outside Carrhae, a small town in modern-day Turkey.
How did an experienced Consul of Rome make such fatal errors that led to the annihilation of his army when opposed by an inferior force? And what happened to the remnants of that army—estimated to be up to a quarter of the original 40,000?
In parts 2 and 3, the author weaves a plot and storyline around quite a rational and logical explanation of what may have happened to those survivors. The outcome of the battle of Carrhae is one of historical fact, what happened to the survivors is simply not known, either because it simply hasn’t been recorded or, if it was, has been lost. Rollins has been able to do this through some very thorough and meticulous research into the evidence that does exist.
Rollins really breathes life into this fascinating period of history. The story is told for the most part through the eyes of the fictional historian Appius, employed by Crassus to be the recorder of his monumental victory. In reality, the narrative switches between first and third person through the constantly shifting perspectives of the central and main characters.
Appius introduces each of the book's parts as a narration to his slave Viridia; it is in these introductions that the author sets the tone and tempo for the book:
I have a girl who attends me; a slave. She’s from a kingdom north and east of Xiongnu.
Where was I? Yes … I was going to mention her eyes. They are almond-shaped, like everyone’s around here, but it’s their color. They are green.
I call her Viridia, based on the word viridis, which in Latin of course means green. One look at those eyes and the reason is obvious – she is a daughter of China and Rome. I wonder who her grandfather was. Did I know him? Viridia is my sole remaining slave. I sold most of the rest and made the remainder free.
One of the keys to writing historical fiction successfully is to breath believability and atmosphere into both narrative and dialogue. The reader must believe in the characters and must believe he or she stands right next to the book's actors as the action unfolds. For the most part, Rollins pulls this off really well. His characters are believable, they’re well drawn, well described, and the dialogue is entirely consistent with the time period in question. There has to be a certain degree of anachronism to make dialogue understandable to the modern reader but that shouldn’t come as a sacrifice to the period it’s set in. It’s a delicate balance and Rollins gets the balance spot on. Rollin’s use of Latin or Latin derivative words in his character dialogue is the glue that holds the book together and what makes it so believable.
The sun and desert air quickly dried the optio. Returning to his scuta and galea where he’d dropped them in the sand, he found Mena and the other slaves waiting with loaves of bread for their domini. She handed him a thick slice, soaked in olive oil.
“Have you drunk?” Rufinius asked her.
“Yes,” she replied.
“Filled our wineskins?”
“Of course. There’s talk among the slaves. We’ll be marching to war within half an hour.”
“I don’t believe it. The legates know the men need rest.”
“Believe it, dominus. When are we ever wrong?”
I really can’t praise this book highly enough. I thoroughly enjoyed reading this book, it’s a right rollicking good read. The book's characters are well drawn and believable. The time period atmospherically portrayed, the story line well-thought through and thoroughly researched, and the author moves the story along at a decent pace. There’s sex, violence aplenty, with a soupçon of skullduggery and political intrigue all set in Roman times. What’s not to like?
As far as I’m concerned, and I read a lot of Roman historical fiction books, this novel is right up there and compares equally with the best authors currently writing Roman historical fiction—Ben Kane, Conn Iggulden, Robert Fabbri and S J A Turney all spring to mind. And that’s some testament to the skill of David Rollins.
I highly recommend, no reservations, Field of Mars to any reader with interest in Roman historical fiction, particularly those interested in the time period around the first triumvirate of Pompey, Caesar, and Crassus.