For Imperial agent, Cassius Corbulo the last three months have been something of a holiday, While Bostra was hardly a Rome or Antioch it was still a pleasant posting and his duties were hardly taxing .
The arrival of his boss, Abascantius to Bostra suggests his life of ease is coming to an end. With rebellion breaking out in neighbouring Palmyra and the tribes of Arabia growing restless the Emperor himself is leading his armies to bring the area under Roman control once more.
For the authorities in the east everything must be perfect for the Emperor’s arrival but when a mysterious enemy attacks a temple and spirits away the Black stone of Edessa, a stone claimed by the Emperor then they must get the stone back before he arrives.
Cassius is charged with finding out who stole the Stone and what they intend to do with it. With an escort of select troops, Cassius with his faithful followers Indavana and Simo must travel into the desert and into the middle of the restless tribes.
As they travel deeper into the relentless desert they see signs that the tribes are ready to rise up against the Roman yoke and Cassius’s mission gets more and more complicated.
Can Cassius travel into the heart of the storm and not only find the Black Stone but also retrieve it before the Emperor arrives in the East?
The Black Stone is the fourth book in Nick Brown series featuring Imperial Agent Cassius Corbulo.
This series just gets better and better and The Black Stone is the best book so far.
Unusually for series set in the Roman period the author tends to avoid the large set piece battles and the massed ranks of the legions that other books seem to fixate on.
This gives the books a very “local” feel, instead of sweeping across the whole empire the books focus on one particular area of the Empire. The last book (The Far Shore) looked at Roman colonists on the African coast and this book focuses on the Tribes of Arabia and their relationship with Rome.
The one advantage of this plot device is that you get to really understand the customs and traditions of the area. The author can devote much more time to really developing how they interact with Rome and then officials sent to administer them.
Another interesting facet of these books are the three main characters. Cassius, Indavara and Simo are all complex and interesting characters. All three of them are struggling with who they are and maybe this is why they get on so well and the relationship really works in the books.
Cassius is the reluctant hero, unlike most “heroes” he isn’t particularity brave or proficient with weapons, he dislikes violence and would rather live a life of debauched idleness. His one strength is his sense of duty and a desires to complete his mission successful.
Cassius is an excellent character and is one of the main reasons the books work, he is very likeable without being the superhuman killing machine most heroes are portrayed as.
Both Indavara and Simo both have different internal struggles that affect their relationship with Cassius. Simo struggles between his duty to Cassius and his desire to follow the teaching of Christ and this cause some real tension between the two.
Indavara is struggling with who he is the most, a cold eyed killer he remembers nothing before his life in the arena. This plot line is one of the most interesting because you can see the conflict between the efficient killer and the nice, normal guy that is trying to break out.
In this book the first cracks appear in the relationships between all three and their struggles between loyalty to each other and the desire for happiness.
The Black Stone is a cracking read, the plot is fast paced and the action scenes very exciting. The escape from the enemy stronghold in particular is very good.
I can’t recommend this book, or series enough and I’m glad to say it keeps getting better and better.