Book Review Legionary: The Blood Road (Legionary #7) by Gordon Doherty

Legionary_The Blood RoadAbout the Book

381 AD: The Gothic War draws to a brutal climax, and the victor’s name will be written in blood…

The great struggle between the Eastern Roman Empire and the Gothic Horde rumbles into its fifth year. It seems that there can be no end to the conflict, for although the Goths are masters of the land, they cannot topple the last of the imperial cities. But heralds bring news that might change it all: Emperor Gratian readies to lead his Western legions into the fray, to turn matters on their head, to crush the horde and save the East!

The men of the XI Claudia legion long for their homeland’s salvation, but Tribunus Pavo knows these hopes drip with danger. For he and his soldiers are Gratian’s quarry as much as any Goth. The road ahead will be fraught with broken oaths, enemy blades… and tides of blood.

Format: Paperback, ebook (344 pp.)    Publisher:
Published: 10th July 2018                       Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

The Blood Road is the seventh book in the author’s Legionary series focussing on the exploits of Tribunus Pavo and his XI Claudia legion.  I haven’t read any of the earlier books in the series but this certainly didn’t affect my enjoyment of The Blood Road – quite the contrary.  The references to past events sprinkled throughout the book made me keen to catch up on the complete series at some point.  [Sigh, wish-list increases by six…]

The dramatic prologue of The Blood Road gives a fantastic sense of the exciting story to come and sets the scene for the turbulent times in which the book is set.  The Goths fear the Huns, the Romans of the Eastern Empire under Theodosius fear the Goths and the Romans of the Western Empire under Gratian fear both.  It’s a dog-eat-dog world in which position relies on showing strength and ruthlessly cowing (or removing) all internal opposition – if possible, in the most excruciatingly violent way.  However, all sides feature the competing forces of ‘hawks’, who advocate war and the total destruction of the enemy, and ‘doves’, who argue for overtures to be made for peace.

Stuck right in the middle of all this mayhem is Pavo.  He is haunted by strange, ominous, vision-like dreams depicting a path of terrible suffering – the ‘blood road’ of the title – that he must endure in order to achieve a higher objective.  It transpires that achieving that objective will necessitate him leading his XI Claudia legion into danger such as they have never faced before and testing their loyalty to the limit.  Okay, so our hero does seem to have extraordinary physical resilience, an amazing ability to escape from seemingly impossible situations and the luck of the devil when it comes to close calls and precarious (often literally) situations.   But surely this is what you expect from a battle-hardened veteran of many arduous campaigns and bloody battles.   And it makes for great fun wondering just how Pavo’s going to extricate himself from this one, and the next one, and the next one…

Historical fiction fans of all varieties will find plenty to enjoy in The Blood Road.  For those who like theirs enlivened by lots of action, the book features a host of skilfully described, exciting, heart-thumping and visceral battle scenes.   Those who crave a good helping of historical detail along with a compelling story will enjoy the author’s obviously detailed research into Roman military structures, equipment and tactics.  (Thanks to the helpful glossary, I now know my spatha from my pugio.)

There are some great descriptions that bring to life the period and the atmosphere within the embattled cities of the Eastern Empire.  ‘It was dog-hot, and the city streets writhed with bodies, pushing and jostling down the main way, converging from the hilly wards, spilling from alleys and finally congregating in a sweating, babbling swarm around the flagged concourse of the Hippodrome.  Hawkers and hagglers cried to all and sundry, offering tiny, stale loaves baked with last week’s grain, pots of thin stew and vases of cheap wine.’

Finally, readers looking for colourful characters, especially of the ‘boo hiss’ variety, will have their wish granted.  There’s Emperor Gratian, Pavo’s sworn enemy, who likes nothing better than thinking up cruel, and ideally prolonged, ways to put his enemies to death.    And there are his sinister agents, of which I will say no more for fear of spoilers except to say – are you absolutely sure that shadow in the doorway is just a shadow?  As Pavo confides, “I sense them everywhere: in my barracks, on every street corner, in every shadow.”

Eager followers of the series will be delighted to know that the concluding chapter of The Blood Road sets up the possibility of further instalments.   I received a review copy courtesy of the author in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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In three words: Dramatic, action-packed, gripping

Try something similar…Vindolanda by Adrian Goldsworthy (read my review here)

Gordon DohertyAbout the Author

Gordon writes: I’m a Scottish writer, addicted to reading and writing historical fiction.

My love of history was first kindled by the ruins of Hadrian’s Wall and the Antonine Wall, and travelling around the ancient world has kept the fire burning brightly ever since. The later Roman Empire and Byzantium hold a particular fascination for me. There is something quite special about the metamorphosis from late antiquity into the ‘dark ages’ and the medieval period. While historical fiction is my passion, I enjoy writing comedy and sci-fi too. Perhaps one day I’ll find a way to combine all three!

My Legionary series is set in the Eastern Roman Empire circa 376 AD and follows the adventures of the border legions as the empire begins to waver under the relentless crush of barbarians from the east and the north.

My Strategos trilogy is set around the build up to the Battle of Manzikert in 1071 AD and follows the dark and troubled life of a Byzantine general in a land riven with bloodshed and doubt.

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