This review is for Rosie’s #Bookreview team. The book was purchased by the reviewer.
This is the third in the historical series Britannia, which explores the time of Roman rule in what is now Great Britain (England, Scotland and Wales). Authored by Richard Denham and M.J. Trow, The Warlords is a fitting conclusion to a compelling trilogy. I have read the previous two books, and while I recommend them all, I strongly suggest they be read in sequence. The series is built around four so-called Heroes of the Wall, who are young men in the first volume (see my reviews of both the first and second books on this blog site). Only two now survive and they are well past their prime, their weakening with age mirroring that of Roman Britannia. The time frame of the series is compressed somewhat in order to follow them into the waning era of Roman rule in its far-flung province.
Elsewhere in Europe, Rome is also in its death throes, following the bloody end of Magnus Maximus, the Roman Emperor who began his reign in Britannia.
One of two remaining Heroes, Justinus Coelius, is now the General of the Roman forces in Britannia, and he and the depleted and increasingly seditious Roman army face a myriad of threats from the wild tribes of the north and others from across the German Sea. The other Hero is Vitalis Celatius, who has become a Christian convert and a weaver of baskets with reeds from the Thames. His goal is to live a quiet life away from conflict, but his religion and reputation draw him back into political events.
In addition to Justinus and Vitalis, this book is richly populated by an array of conniving and greedy characters, some real and some fictional, better drawn and even more interesting than those in the previous two volumes. Stilicho, a historical figure, is a ruthless and loyal toady of the Emperor Theodosius and is tasked with taking the head of Magnus Maximus to Londinium (London) to teach the barbarians a lesson in Roman strength and superiority. Stilicho runs into two immoveable objects on his arrival: the unscrupulous but competent Vicarius, who oversees Rome’s business in the city, and Scipio of the Black Knives, a gang of thieves and murderers. His mother Honoria is Vicarius’ mistress.
Another historical character is Pelagius, a roving Christian evangelist, whose religion is tolerant of traditional gods and emphasizes free will. He has an enemy in the Bishop Londinium and a reluctant follower in Vitalis.
When Stilicho is recalled upon Theodosius’ death, a sequence of men declare themselves Caesar and rally various of the Army’s legions to rule the province and beyond, only to be overthrown one by one. In the meantime, Niall of the Nine Hostages, High King of Tara, is raising and plundering the western and southwestern coasts of the province. To the north, the Voltadini, a barbarian tribe and allies of the Romans who have for centuries repelled attacks from the Picts, the Scots, the Irish and the Saxons, face a deathly threat. The son of their Queen, who is the lover of Justinus, seeks to overthrow both her and the Romans by secret pacts with these same tribes.
Who can contain Niall? Can the Queen rally the Voltadini to maintain the northern regions from invasion? Who will ultimately control the legions? The book’s characters are wound within these gradually unravelling story threads and despite my knowledge of what really happened historically, the complex story kept me reading with enthusiasm. The authors have clearly taken some liberties with the history of Britannia in spinning this saga, but then again, there is much of that history that is unknown.
I recommend this third book and indeed, the whole series, and hope to visit some of the sites mentioned in the book when I next travel to England.
About the authors:
Ever since studying the Romans at school, he has taken a keen interest in them, specifically Romans in Britain. As a boy growing up with swords, knights, tanks and all things military he also developed an interest in the legends of King Arthur. He then discovered that Roman Britain was much more interesting. The inspiration for the Britannia series was the cold, impassive footnote Richard would constantly come across “Romans leave Britain”. This would have been, for those who lived it, an apocalyptic time never known before; with the Romans having lived, fought, laughed, married and raised children on our island, “leaving” could never be as simple as that.
M.J. Trow was born in Wales and attended King’s College in London, where he read history. He has worked at Ryde High School as a well-known teacher of history and politics and is known in some circles for his work in theater and dramas. He is the prolific writer of three mystery series: 16 Inspector Lastrade books, 17 Peter Maxwell books, and six in the Kit Marlowe series.