Sometimes you get to read a book that is so good you are almost embarrassed to review it in case you came across as fawning or worse, in league with the author! Eagle of the Twelfth by M.C. Scott is certainly one of those books.
Eagle of the Twelfth is the third book in the Rome series but is a sort of prequel to Rome: The Emperor’s Spy and Rome: The Coming of the King and in it we meet the spy Pantera, star of the first two books. While he is a important character, this book focuses on Demalion, a young and somewhat reluctant legionary conscript. After surviving the perils and intrigues of the Parthian court with Pantera, Demalion is posted to the Twelfth legion.
This is the worst legion in the East and its reputation amongst the other legions is rock bottom. Demalion, along with his centurion Lupus decide that they are going to turn, first their century and then the rest of the legion into the best fighting force they can. Along the way we meet the rest of Demalion’s tent unit, Tears, Cadus, Lupus, the Rabbit, Proclion, Horgias, Sarapammon, Syrion, and Rufus.
They then embark on the brutal training needed to redeem the reputation of the Twelfth and foster a fighting spirit and a love for their eagle. They must face snow, wind and rain as they struggle to turn the Twelfth into a fighting force capable of standing up to the Parthian Cataphracts. Along the way they face unbelievable hardships and disasters as they try to turn the Twelfth into a legion they can be proud of. Demalion and his tent unit then lead from the front as they face Parthian hordes and Jewish rebels, facing impossible odds and heartbreaking loss but also learning to love each other and more importantly they learn to love and cherish ‘The Eagle of the Twelfth’.
As I stated at the beginning of this review, I loved this book, I have always been a fan of M.C Scott but this is easily her best book so far. The thing that set this book apart from all of the other Roman fiction books on the market is M.C. Scott’s ability to create believable relationships between her characters. She shows how men from different backgrounds and temperaments forge, through hardship and adversity the strength and togetherness to withstand every obstacle thrown at them.
We see how the men first learn to trust one another, love each other and then ultimately, how they deal with the loss of their comrades and Scott isn’t scared of showing the sometimes complex relationships that form between the men.
This is a seriously good book and is pushing to be my book of the year so far. If you like fiction (Roman or otherwise) with real emotions and feelings and a cracking good story then this is the book for you!
Excerpt from Eagle of the Twelfth, by MC Scott
Battles can turn on a single moment and we, who had seen enough battles turn against us in the past, felt the gods lay this one open for us to turn it our way. I felt Tears to my right, Horgias on my left, I think Taurus was still there as his shield man. With our shields locked, we stepped forward and forward, building speed and power with each stride. I was dizzy with pride. I saw Hebrew men half turn to me and slew them without care, without pause. I sang, I think, but cannot remember the words.
The enemy parted before me like corn before a storm. I looked down the long tunnel of space they made and there was a man lying at the end of it, with the stump of a broken arrow rising up from his chest. A single man dressed in perfect white knelt and cradled his head, except when I looked again, it seemed the white clad aide was a woman: nothing was impossible now, not even that a woman should be on a battlefield.She raised her eyes and looked at me and I saw darkness and heard the songs of all the dead and knew that he had gone, this self-styled king, and that grief for such a death made men weak.
I raised my shield and drove forward my sword and thought that if we could get to him, we could kill also his successors, because the heirs always gather round the death-place of their fallen lord. And so our line became a wedge, that fabled machine of Alexander that can cleave a battlefield in two if the lead man has only the courage of his charge. I was the tip of the arrow, the nose of the boar as it hurtles at its victim. I had all the courage in the legions.
‘For the Twelfth!’