The year is AD 12. A once-divided and riven Rome now prospers under the rule of its first Emperor, Caesar Augustus. But the Civil Wars have cast a long shadow, and men still remain who remember the Republic that came before the Empire.
Gaius Sertor Orbus, Praefector of the Emperor’s XII Legion, is stripped of his rank following an act of cowardice too shameful to name. Expelled from his beloved Legion, Orbus is given a punishing chance to redeem himself. Taking command of a new Cohort of auxilia, benighted men with no citizenship, prospects or future, he vows to lead his charges to an honourable death. Or perhaps, more dauntingly, to an honest life.
When war calls, Orbus faces a foe who speaks to his own Republican sympathies. How many comrades will he sacrifice for victory? And just how much of his soul?
I was sent a digital ARC of Legion That Was by the author, in exchange for an honest review. Thank you very much, Vijay Hare!
Legion That Was is a historical drama set in Ancient Roman times. Vijay Hare clearly knows his stuff when it comes to Roman history – the world comes to life with all the insights he gives us regarding the life of a Roman soldier, the rites and customs involved. This adds a wonderful richness to the story and makes it easy to imagine yourself back in those times of order and brutality.
Written in first person perspective, the compelling story follows Gaius Sertor Orbus, cast out from his Legion for desertion when attacked by Gauls, during a celebration of Saturnalia, and ashamed by his behaviour. The backstory is told via a number of flashbacks in the early parts of the book, which were sometimes a little jarring. It was clear which events were happening now and which were in the past due to the flashbacks being italicized, but they still broke up the flow of the story at the beginning quite a bit. I also found the liberal use of Latin terms for items such as weapons and roles within the Army a little difficult to absorb – a glossary would have been a very welcome aid with these. Perhaps the author plans to add one before publication.
The richly described characters in this story are layered and believable. Their inner monologues show the reader the depth of their intelligence and help to flesh them out. This would appear to be one of the author’s strengths along with the wealth of historically educational snippets about Ancient Roman life (including daily dress, slavery, wedding traditions, gladiators, methods of heating, soldierly life to name but a few) which he adds in along the way without the reader even realising.
From what we come to learn of Orbus, his upbringing and beliefs, desertion would seem to go against everything he believed was important, and yet in the heat of the moment he was terrified and could only think of self-preservation. He wonders if he is more like his father than he previously thought. In this regard, his father’s epitaph gives him pause and becomes a phrase never far from his thoughts:
The true hell of life is that every man has his reasons
Orbus collects together a motley crew of the dregs of society – unwanted gladiators, circus performer slaves, and other deserters from various Legions to build himself a new Legion and try to rebuild his self-respect and the respect of his peers. They soon find themselves called to war against a rebel leader whose political views are not that far from Orbus’s own. What will his decision be regarding his latest foe? Should he join them against the Emperor or continue on the path he is expected to follow? At this point the pace of the novel picks up substantially and we are treated to an authentic-feeling, bloody battle, with all the sights, sounds and even smells of war, but on whose side does Orbus decide to fight? I was on the edge of my seat throughout this exciting section of the book.
An impressive debut, Legion That Was was an exciting, epic, detailed and nuanced story and I would recommend it to any fans of historical fiction, political machinations, or students of Latin who want to bring their studies to life.
About the Author
My name is Vijay Hare and I am an author from Oxford.
I’ve always loved sci-fi, historical fiction and fantasy as a reader, and I’ve been into writing my own stories ever since I was about 5.
Now, twenty years later, I’m putting the finishing touches to my debut historical novel, Legion That Was, set in Ancient Rome. It will be self-published in paperback and eBook formats later this year.