Sunday, February 18, 2018

Review: Betrayal Book 1 of the Centurions trilogy by Anthony Riches

A history resource article by Mary Harrsch © 2017


After reading nine books in Riches' "Empire" series, I had to do an about face when I began to read Betrayal, Book 1 of his "Centurions" trilogy. Not only was I transported back almost 100 years earlier but it's the Year of the Four Emperors and suddenly both sides poised for mortal combat are all members of the Roman army.  Quite honestly, I didn't know who to root for. On the one hand, I came to admire Kivilaz, known as Julius Civilis to the Romans, prince of the Batavi and a courageous warrior who demonstrates his bravery and intrinsic leadership in the opening pages of the introduction at the battle of the Medway River. But on the other hand I soon found Centurion Marius, first spear of the Fifth Legion, a man who has come up through the ranks and maintains a fierce sense of loyalty to the empire and to the men who serve with him, equally inspiring.

When we first meet Civilis, he has been unjustly imprisoned for, what the Roman's suspect, support of Gaius Julius Vindex and his Gallic revolt against the emperor Nero.

Vindex attempted to clear the way to the throne for the then governor of Hispania Tarraconensis, Servius Sulpicius Galba. According to the historian Cassius Dio, Vindex "was powerful in body and of shrewd intelligence, was skilled in warfare and full of daring for any great enterprise; and he had a passionate love of freedom and a vast ambition." However, in the novel Civilis has a much different opinion of Vindex that appears to be warranted when Vindex is defeated by the legions of Germania Superior lead by Lucius Verginius Rufus and commits suicide.

Nero has, in the meantime, committed suicide and Galba has taken the throne. Even though Galba's accession was the goal of the Vindex revolt, Galba is of the old school of Roman justice that dictates Roman rebels must be severely dealt with, regardless of who they were attempting to elevate. So Civilis' fate hangs by a thread.

Galba dismisses his Batavian bodyguard, who have served as loyal bodyguards of emperors  since the days of Augustus, and replaces them with local Praetorians. He spares Civilis, though, unwilling to put to death what he views as a loyal supporter. But Galba sends Civilis and the Batavi back to their homeland in disgrace, even though Civilis and the eight Batavi cohorts had played an important role in the Roman invasion of Britain in 43 CE and the subsequent subjugation of that country from 43 - 66 CE.

Batavian cavalry mask
To make matters worse between Rome and the Batavi, the new commander of Germania Inferior, Aulus Vitellius, is convinced by the centurions of the "old camp" who originally charged Civilis with treason, to rearrest him upon his return.

The Rhine legions have not forgotten Nero's betrayal and the part Galba played in it. So, at the beginning of the new year they refuse to take the sacramentum, the oath of loyalty, to Galba. Instead they proclaim Vitellius as the new emperor and all available troops, including the Batavi are swept up to march south to meet the "usurper's" legions.

As the novel progressed, I came to admire Alcaeus, the Batavi's wolf-priest of Hercules, for not only his martial prowess but his deeply seated sense of honor and dedication to his Batavi brothers. I became fond of a new Batavi recruit named Eglehart, too. Although newly inducted into the Batavi auxiliary, he had spent years in training with his father and uncle, veterans who served the legions loyally for over 25 years. So, it's no surprise when he is eventually dubbed Achilles for his courage and skill on the battlefield.

Once again I found Riches' characters vibrant and their friendship with each other compelling. I found myself going about my daily chores chanting "Batavi swim the seas..," the Batavi's battle cry.

Of course Riches' gritty, heart-pounding combat sequences always keep me on the edge of my seat. The novel ends with the climactic battle of Cremona (also known as the First Battle of Bedriacum) where the Batavi face off against a corps of marines and a unit of gladiators fighting for Otho. I found the battle sequence particularly interesting because the battle was also the climax of Doug Jackson's novel, "Sword of Rome", only his hero Gaius Valerius Verrens is fighting with the gladiators and marines. So, I have now had the chance to view this battle from both sides!

Betrayal is another outstanding example of Anthony Riches' craftsmanship and meticulous research and I highly recommend it! I'm really looking forward to Onslaught, Book2, where the Batavian Revolt gets underway in earnest!