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As a fan of historic fiction there are certain areas of the past that I have noticed different authors visiting and writing their own take on. For example I have now read about King Arthur and his band of jolly Knights from at least 4 different perspectives. One author has Arthur as a man who ignores his wife, another has Sir Lancelot as a shrewd heart breaker, and one even ignored the men to concentrate on Guinevere's life. The majority of King Arthurs tales are myths so the authors can pretty much write what they wish; this can not be said of real historic characters like Caesar. Conn Igguldens Caesar books are the 3rd retelling of his life that I have read and like all the other books there are certain events that definitely did happen. Could Iggulden sustain my attention into his third book in the series as Caesar tries to tame the wilds of Gaul?
Caesar, Brutus and co. return to Rome to see it split between petty rivalries in the Senate. With the the likes of Pompey vying for power Caesar decides that Rome is not the place for him at this current time. By using his political muscle and successful military campaigns Caesar is given permission to start a campaign to make Gaul and the mysterious island beyond it part of the Roman Empire. The Gauls may prove to be Caesar's toughest opponents yet, but his life is also hampered by the deadly winters and personal issues. The relationship between Caesar and his second, Brutus, comes under threat when a relationship between Caesar and Brutus mother turns bad. With Caesar controlling a powerful army in the West can he deal with the internal politics in his own camp whilst handling Pompey in Rome?
Field of Swords is the novel equivalent of a filler film in a series such as Star Wars or Back to the Future. However, sometimes these mid offerings prove to be the best as the introduction to the characters is no longer needed and a difficult conclusion does not need to be met. The Empire Strikes Back is a prime example of this. However, Swords does not quite reach these heights and does feel a little too much like filler at times as we hurtle towards the exciting and tragic end to Caesars existence. Saying that there are plenty of elements of this book that make it a fine historical fiction novel.
Iggulden is at his best when writing the epic battle scenes that appear throughout the book. He is obviously well versed in how the Romans went to war and his knowledge and enthusiasm is all over the page during the fights. As a rule I always enjoy reading about the disciplined tactics of the Romans versus the more haphazard, but more numerous, locals. Iggulden only adds to this by describing in detail a vivid scene that makes the reader want to keep reading no matter how late it gets.
The quality of writing also extends to the descriptions of life in Rome at the time of Caesar. Rather than being a dry history lesson Iggulden shows that life 2000 years ago was in many ways similar to ours. The years before Caesars final rise to power where dangerous ones in Rome as it was being ripped apart by violent criminal gangs. Iggulden is able to describe the everyday lives of not only famous Romans, but also the Plebs that make up the city.
The one area that this book suffers from is due to the fact it is the third of four novels in a series where everyone knows the end. I am already accustomed to the take on characters that Iggulden has from the first two books so I was eagerly looking forward to the downfall of Pompey and Brutus betrayal. However, these huge and exciting elements are being saved till the final book, and therefore, makes this novel feel a little like filler. We are given hints as to the politics and personal hatreds that are rising, but nothing is ever realised. There is too much teasing in this book for me.
Finally, I also had a slight issue with the sentimental feel that the book took on occasion. The relationships between Caesar, Brutus and Brutus Mother are dealt with in a slightly Mills and Boon style for me. It appears that Brutus is going to betray Caesar not because he becomes a tyrant, but because he dissed his Mum. I found all this part of the story a lot less believable that the action and descriptions of Roman life. Perhaps Igguldens writing skills are not yet fully realised in the art of relationships.
Overall, despite a couple of small misgivings, Field of Swords is a great book that moves towards what promises to be an epic final novel in Igguldens series. It is slightly weaker than the first two books as the campaign in Gaul is not as exciting as battles versus Spartacus or Caesars demise. However, despite there not being any huge historic events to convey, Iggulden still writes a fantastic action scene and the battles in Gaul are amongst his best. I am really enjoying this adaptation of Caesar's life and I advise any fan of historic fiction to read the series through 1-4 as they are amongst the best in the genre.
Author: Conn Iggulden
Price: amazon uk - £3.99
play.com - £4.99
Having spent most of his teens and early twenties fighting Pirates and crushing rebellions around Rome, Gaius Julius Caesar seems to be coming of age. Having been sent to Spain following the slave revolt however he seems to be stuck in a rut. A visit from Marcus Brutuss mother seems to respark Julius though and within months he returns to Rome to run for the senate. His plans after his period in the Senate see Julius head for Gaul and new friendships start to put a real strain on his relationship with Brutus.
This is the third book in the latest series of fiction books about one of the Romans greatest leaders. As a former English teacher, Conn Iggulden has taken to writing and for the majority of this book, like the previous two; he has stuck to recorded events in Caesars life. Having read the previous two works by Iggulden I thought he got the mixture of fact and fiction quite nicely mixed together. Again this is the case here as he puts together another compelling story for the next part of the life of Julius Caesar. Of course Iggulden does state at the end where he got the basis of the book from, it is important to remember that its not wholly accurate but that isnt too important to the overall story.
After discovering this series Ive worked my way through the first three books very quickly as all three to date have been incredibly well written. It also helps that Igguldens style makes it compelling reading and I found it almost impossible to put the book down at times. It is a factor that has featured in all three books so far and despite the 620 odd pages in length I seem to work through them quite quickly. There is a nice flow to them and it would seem Iggulden has focused on events that wont bog down the pace of the story and keeps it flowing nicely.
While I dont have any grounds for comparison as Iggulden is the first and only alternate history fiction writer Ive tried, his books are very gripping. I do intend to move onto the likes of Cornwell but Igguldens series has me so gripped Id like to move onto the fourth and final part of this series before changing to anything else. As this is the third page its obvious now that Iggulden likes to keep a similar chapter set up through all of his books with each still consisting of around 15 20 pages.
Ive found that although the series is intended to be read in order rather than individually there is scope to read them out of sequence. This is particularly possible if you are aware of a lot of the key events surrounding Caesars life as youll be able to fill in the gaps from the first two books. I would however thoroughly recommend the series as a whole from the start as its possibly one of the most enjoyable book series Ive actually read.
Its not only the storyline that makes Igguldens novels so compelling. He really brings the best out of the characters and that gets the reader identifying with them. Having read from the start Ive seen Brutus and Julius grow and mature and it makes them seem more real than the average history book might. Even though a lot of the relationship is fictitious it helps to develop both the characters and the story. As the series has worn on Iggulden has added more key characters such as Pompey, Octavian and Mark Anthony.
All the additional characters have a strain on the relationship between Brutus and Julius. As Iggulden develops all these relationships and interactions he also plants new key characters and builds up a decent background and creates a decent characterisation of all the main characters. The likes of Octavian are key to the future of Rome and I think Iggulden handles their introductions to the story nicely.
Overall I think this is another excellent addition to the series. While I thoroughly enjoyed the first two books I think the series is getting better with each book and Caesars adventures in Gaul and Britton make for compelling reading. Its a book that is almost impossible to put down and builds towards the key finish. Before now Id never really have considered Historical fiction but my gradual introduction through Iggulden has certainly sparked my interest. If you would like to get into this sort of genre or the Romans are of interest to you then give this book a read and the series as a whole.
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Book Series: Emperor