Rome: The Art of War (2013): M.C. Scott

★★★½

The Rome Novels: Book IV

You certainly can’t accuse Manda Scott of doing the same thing over and over again. The first two novels of this series were written in the third-person; the third was in the first person; and this book is knitted together from an interweaving series of first-person testimonies from a dizzying number of characters. Nor do we remain in Judea, where I was just getting settled in. Instead, we’re whisked back to Rome for the final showdown in the Year of the Four Emperors, as the anxious Vitellius clings to power on the Palatine, and Pantera attempts to smooth the ground for his chosen candidate Vespasian to take the throne. But forces are at work against Pantera, led by an enemy as cunning and ruthless as himself. More to the point, someone in his inner circle is betraying him…

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Rome: The Eagle of the Twelfth (2012): M.C. Scott

★★★★

The Rome Novels: Book III

War! Blood and dust! I hurried straight on to the next book in Manda Scott’s Rome series which, again, took me to a place I wasn’t expecting. Disconcertingly, after two novels focused on Pantera, we step away from him completely for much of this volume and instead follow Demalion of Macedon, a young horse-trader turned legionary in the XIIth Legion. If the first book centred on Rome and the second on Judea, this volume takes us to even more exotic regions: to Armenia and Hyrcania under the rule of the Parthian King of Kings. Knowing that I was in good hands, I pushed impatience about Pantera to the back of my mind, and let Scott unfold her story in her own compelling time.

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Rome: The Emperor’s Spy (2009): M.C. Scott

★★★★

The Rome Novels: Book I

Manda Scott; the Emperor Nero; chariot-racing; mystery cults; a love triangle; and an imperial spy fighting against time to prevent disaster: it’s a formidably tempting combination. Needless to say, I’ve been itching to read this ever since I finished the last of the Boudica novels and was finally able to wait no longer. And it thoroughly lived up to expectations, as I tore breathlessly through an audacious, fast-paced story, plotted with an almost Dunnettian dexterity.

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Boudica: Dreaming the Serpent Spear (2006): Manda Scott

★★★★

Boudica: Book IV

I’ve been saving the fourth and final Boudica novel until the Christmas holidays, because the epic sweep of these books demands a bit of focus. Besides, I’ve grown deeply fond of Scott’s characters, who blend courage and nobility with a profound self-knowledge, and I wanted to savour the conclusion properly. I’ve followed their stories across four books and three decades, but all things must end.

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Boudica: Dreaming the Hound (2005): Manda Scott

★★★★

Boudica: Book III

And so to the third instalment of Manda Scott’s Boudica quartet, which I’m eking out so as not to finish it too soon. Dreaming the Hound takes us deeper into the story of Breaca, the flame-haired warrior whose leadership against the invading legions has earned her the title of the Boudica, ‘bringer of victory’. It also follows the life that runs parallel to her own: that of her conflicted, troubled half-brother, once named Bán, and then Valerius, who served as decurion of the Thracian cavalry under the aegis of Rome and is now, unwillingly, back among his own people.

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Boudica: Dreaming the Bull: Manda Scott

★★★★

Boudica: Book II

Naturally it didn’t take long for me to plunge into the second of Manda Scott’s Boudica books after my admiration for the first volume, Dreaming the Eagle. It is just as magisterial and sensitive as its predecessor, with an epic sweep that now opens out far beyond the tribes of Britannia. Rome is, both culturally and geographically, a more significant player here. Perhaps it lacks a little of the tightly-forged focus of that first book, but this is often the case with second instalments, which both open and close mid-action, as it were. But if that’s a flaw, it’s small and scarcely visible in the finely-crafted whole. Weaving between her two protagonists with elegance, and a fine feeling for the grey areas of the soul, Scott creates yet another gripping glimpse of a lost history.

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Boudica: Dreaming the Eagle: Manda Scott

★★★★★

Boudica: Book I

Three years ago, just after finishing the last novel in Dorothy Dunnett’s Niccolò series, I asked for recommendations of similar books to fill the gap. Although Manda Scott’s Boudica novels were mentioned several times, I didn’t follow them up. I think I shamefully leapt to the conclusion, without any evidence whatsoever, that Boudica was just another identikit sword-and-shield historical series. How wrong I was. When I recently found the first book in a second-hand sale, I decided to see what I made of it. And it’s stunning.

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