TITLE: Eagles in the Storm (Eagles of Rome #3)
AUTHOR: Ben Kane
GENRE: Historical Fiction
PUBLISHED: 23 March 2017
PURCHASE LINKS: Amazon.co.uk, Amazon.com
MOBILISM LINK: Eagles in the Storm
As Ben Kane writes in his Author’s Note:
Writing an account of the ambush in the Teutoburg Forest – a story which I hope you have read, or will read, in Eagles at War – was something I had wanted to do for years.
And it shows. Kane’s passion and depth of knowledge of the subject mark this Eagles Trilogy, of which Eagles in the Storm is the third and final book, as what must surely be considered the best fictional account of Rome’s worst military defeat in its history.
This is a story of revenge, redemption, and absolution.
Tullus’ soul would always belong to the eagle of the Eighteenth, his legion for a decade and a half. The legion had been annihilated with two others six years before by Arminius, a Cherusci chieftain and one-time ally of Rome. Although Tullus had survived the bloodbath, dragging with him a handful of his soldiers, the mental scars it had left pained him yet. He lived for revenge on Arminius, but stronger still was his desire to recover the Eighteenth’s eagle.
Revenge for the loss of so many brothers in arms, comrades, and legionnaires massacred at the hands of the Germanic barbarian traitor Arminius, the architect of their downfall. Redemption from the crippling guilt felt by the few survivors who managed to escape the terrible massacre. And absolution from the sins of having lost the very symbols of Rome’s military power—the sacred golden Eagle standards presented to each Legion by the Emperor himself, which lend their name to the title of the trilogy—The Eagles of Rome. The Eagle standard has a very prominent and special place in this book.
Senior Centurion Lucius Cominius Tullus was mesmerised. Perched on crossed thunderbolts with garlanded wings raised behind, held aloft by the bareheaded aquilifer, the eagle radiated power. The physical embodiment of the legion’s spirit and the sacrifices made by its soldiers, it demanded reverence, expected devotion.
I am your servant, thought Tullus. I follow you, always.
As ever, the eagle made no answer.
If you’ve not read the first two books in the trilogy, Eagles at War and Hunting the Eagles I strongly urge you to do so before reading this one, as they set the stage and platform for this final book in the trilogy that completes the story. The first book details the lead up to and actual battle of the Teutoburg Forest itself and explores the reasoning behind how three of Rome’s legions, the XVII, XVIII and XIX under the command of Germania’s governor, Publius Quinctilius Varus could have been annihilated in the way that they were. How could this have happened? The second, explores the aftermath of the battle and subsequent attempt by the newly appoint Germania governor, nephew of the Emperor Tiberius and General and commander of the Germanic Legions Germanicus, ably assisted by his fictional Centurion, Lucius Cominius Tullus to further subjugate the Germanic tribes and recover the lost Eagles but actually provokes a mutiny by the legions themselves.
In this third and final book, we’re reacquainted with Centurion Tullius and his ragtag bunch of legionaries that have followed him from one legion to another and their comradeship and escapades form the glue around which the three books in the trilogy are formed. They form the Roman side of the thread that runs throughout the three books. Arminius, the Rome-trained traitor who re-joined and galvanised the Germanic tribes' resistance to Rome’s oppression in the first and subsequent books forms the Germanic side of the thread. Once again, Tullius gets a chance to face off against his intensely hated nemesis in his attempt to recover the Eagle lost from his own Legion.
As in all historical fiction, facts are intertwined with fiction by necessity to create a fluid story. Tullius’s character is fictional but fabulously drawn even if somewhat anachronistically — he’s revered by his Legion, by his Legate, and by his General but most of all, by his men, for his bravery, hardness but fairness. He leads from the front, and would never order any of his men to do anything he wouldn’t do himself and his men love him for it. This is in direct contrast to the factual character Arminius, who really struggles to unite the Germanic tribes behind one person due to their innate distrust of anyone attempting to become a leader of the tribes or be a first among equals. It would have been easy to paint Tullius as the hero here and Arminius as the evil anti-hero, but Arminius has been treated sympathetically, he is, after all, a freedom-fighter, fighting against the subjugation of his people by the Roman invaders.
It was always going to be difficult to write three full-length novels about one battle, regardless of its prominence in history and particularly when the battle was done and dusted in the first book. That Ben Kane has been able to pull this off so successfully is due to his passion and knowledge of the subject matter and all things Roman. Interspersed between the realistically written battle action, where Kane’s supreme ability to create atmosphere and realism puts you right next to the blood-spattered, mud encased and sweat trickling legionary in the battle line are more sedate and calmer reflections and details of ordinary legionary camp life. These reflections within themselves are fascinating in their insight to the roles and life of an ordinary legionary foot soldier.
Were the Roman-worshipped Gods and Goddesses, Fortuna, Mars, and Jupiter ultimately more powerful than the human sacrifices made to appease and gain the favour of the Germanic Thunder God Donar? Or was the ironclad discipline and organisation of the Roman legions simply too powerful for the fragmented tribes and individual bravery of the Germanic warriors? I’ll leave you to ponder that one.
My only quibble with the book, and it’s a minor one, was the side shoots off the main story, of which there were several that didn’t seem to add anything to the story itself. One, seemed particularly out of place, concerning the death and funeral of one of the legionaries:
Eyes closed, Tullus remembered his men who had died, not just in Arminius’ ambush and the campaigns since, but in the long years since he’d been promoted to the centurionate. There were so many that Tullus could not put a number to them. Good men, for the most part. Fine soldiers, who had followed his orders and stood shoulder to shoulder with their comrades to the end.
On reflection, this may just have been Ben Kane’s analogy to bring closure to the story.
A very enjoyable conclusion to the Eagles of Rome trilogy. I highly recommend this book and the previous two books to anyone with interest in Roman military history, or specifically that terrible disaster in the Teutoburg Forest in Germania.