Author: Simon Turney
Publisher: Head of Zeus
- ISBN: 9781801108959
- Published: January 2023
- Pages: 416
- Format reviewed: Hardback
- Review date: 05/01/2023
- Language: English
Given a time machine where would you travel? Reading a lot of Historic Fiction as taught me that the Roman Empire would not be my choice. Life was hard and short for many people and that included many of the emperors. It could be a challenging time to survive in. Becoming a legionary promised a better life, especially if you lived to retire. Simon Turney’s Bellatrix is the concluding part of Titus Cervianus’ story. The reluctant army medic now finds himself crossing an impassable desert to fight the formidable Warrior Queen, Bellatrix. Good luck. He may just need the Gods’ help.
With the Kushites and Egyptians unified against the Romans, rather than retreating to safety, Titus and his Legion XXII are made to march deeper into enemy territory across arid deserts. If they can survive this gruelling trip across the expanse, their reward is to capture an enemy city. Always the pessimist, Titus does not believe that he or any of his allies are likely to survive, but he is part of the formidable Roman army. With their skills and Titus’ knowledge of local customs, they may have a slim chance of survival.
A lot of people die in Historic Fiction, especially in Roman novels full of battles. You will have epic and sweeping battles, the protagonist in the centre, those around him picked off. It is a gruesome world, but often feels unreal, like the hero is invincible. In Turney’s duology the character of Titus Cervianus offers something different – a vulnerable man who is constantly worried about dying. Rather than being annoying, it is refreshing. Titus has a strong survival instinct and is willing to use all available avenues to live another day. As a man of science and knowledge this can mean using medicine or local practises, but there is also more to his character as he starts to seek the wisdom of Gods.
Historic series can be tens of books long and the characters evolve slowly, if at all. This is to allow the books to be released regularly. Turney uses the freedom of a two-part tale to develop Titus at a quicker pace. Some of the most interesting aspects of the book are Titus’ struggle between being a man of science and of superstition. He is in a land of strange Gods; can he utilise their power to aid him? Are they real? Rome’s attitude to local Gods is great subplot in Bellatrix, Turney does a fantastic job of explaining how many deities were assumed to be the Roman Gods in local form.
Another element I loved in Bellatrix was the harsh reality of being a Legionary. As mentioned, many historic fiction books are full of death, but Turney brings a sense of reality. The crossing of the desert is intense, and a good chunk of the book is rightly used to explore what would happen if ill equipped soldiers marched across the dunes. The author also explores the reality of weakness and injury. Titus is a medic, and he is often forced to go against his teachings and allow another to die for the greater good of the unit.
The setting of Kush makes Bellatrix a different feeling Roman novel, the enigmatic warriors are only matched by the harsh scenery. Titus does not want to be there and often moans about it, but to balance this Turney has other characters. A positive tent mate or the veteran Centurion who leads from the front.
Bellatrix has its share of skirmishes and battles that are well written, full of the thrills and visceral action the genre is famed for, but this is only part of the story. What makes this tale standout is the intelligence. The character of Titus, the exploration of life in the Roman army, the setting. All are developed more than your usual slice of historic action fiction, making this a book that will appeal to fans of the genre who are ready for a little more.
Written on 5th January 2023 by Sam Tyler .