It is 42 AD, and Quintus Licinius Cato has just arrived in Germany as a new recruit to the Second Legion, the toughest in the Roman army. If adjusting to the rigours of military life isn’t difficult enough for the bookish young man, he also has to contend with the disgust of his colleagues when, because of his imperial connections, he is appointed a rank above them. As second-in-command to Macro, the fearless, battle-scarred centurion who leads them, Cato will have more to prove than most in the adventures that lie ahead. Then the men discover that the army’s next campaign will take them to a land of unparalleled barbarity – Britain. After the long march west, Cato and Macro undertake a special mission that will thrust them headlong into a conspiracy that threatens to topple the Emperor himself..
This story is told primarily from the POV of Cato, mixed with Macro the new Centurion. Cato arrives as a new recruit to the Second Legion, son of a slave, made a freeman on proviso that he joins the army, and having spent most of his short life reading and writing in the Emperor’s Palace.
Being young, weak and untrained makes him a target for the more experience soldiers he is now in command of, and not only has to undergo the training but be faced with bullying.
However, the situations he is put in, along with the mentoring of Macro, much of the book is spent as he comes to terms and grows up in the army. Soon they are on their way to Britain – the land of dragons and vicious locals who would be waiting on the beaches in order to slaughter the army as they landed.
Meanwhile there is much intrigue, blood, battles, dangerous missions, murder, spying, blackmail, double and triple crosses and the search for a secret buried treasure.
This is not high literature, but that’s not a bad thing. It’s faced paced, and easily pulls you from one chapter to the next. The battles are staged well and easily demonstrate the physicality of hand to hand combat where people are fighting to the death. It’s a nice demonstration of Cato’s growth from never having handled a sword or javelin before to being in the middle of the final battle.