The Pursuit of Justice in a Violent Age
August 25, 2014 by Gregg Zimmerman
Imperial Rome, starting with the first emperor Augustus, spanned about 500 years, and was ruled by approximately 65 emperors (depending how you count usurpers, upstarts, and self-proclaimed tyrants). So the average tenure of a Roman emperor was a little less than 8 years, and few of them died of natural causes. The Sign of the Eagle is set in the early reign of Vespasian, who took the throne during the chaotic year of four emperors (69 A.D.). This was an era of barbarian invasions, sinister political plots, and military unrest when any given general stationed in the provinces could declare himself emperor and advance with his army upon Rome on any particular day. This is the backdrop of The Sign of the Eagle, a fast-paced and extremely enjoyable historical novel. Protagonist Macha, the daughter of a Celtic king, is married to Roman tribune Titus. She is told by an envoy that her husband has been arrested for treason, and is part of a conspiracy to overthrow Vespasian. Macha does not take this news sitting down, plunging into a suspenseful mission to discover the truth and exonerate her husband. The bodies of people who know too much are falling all around her, but this does not deter the dedicated and courageous Macha from her single minded pursuit ,that will free her husband and save the emperor. I am particularly impressed by the verisimilitude that the author achieves. It is clear that he has done his research and is very familiar not only with historical facts and places, but with the beliefs, habits and everyday life of citizens of every strata of Roman society. This was a very enjoyable and informative novel, and I look forward to upcoming works of historical fiction by Jess Steven Hughes.
An historical novel of betrayal and suspense in ancient Rome that will leave you breathless
August 31, 2014 by “lokhos”
Spend some time in Ancient Rome, solving mystery upon mystery as a British Celtic woman raised a Roman tries to clear the name of Titus, the Roman tribune who is her husband. Got that? The Sign of the Eagle is a crime thriller, a police procedural, and a correct historical with all the vocabulary and scholarship necessary, rolled into one delicious package. Threats and plots reach all the way up from the garden villa of our heroine, Macha, to the court of the Roman Emperor Vespasian.
Macha’s husband Titus is a professional cavalry soldier. When Titus is accused of treason, Macha’s adventure goes into high gear, with everything she loves at stake.
Rather than ruin the story for you, I’ll not dwell on the plot beyond saying it has turns and twists enough for any modern reader. This book also has the feel of its period: every detail is correct, from swords and cavalry tack to combs and pins for our Celtic heroine’s red hair.
Don’t mistake me: this novel is neither bodice ripper nor dissertation, but a full blown novel of ancient Rome that at times reminded me of Ecco’s “Name of the Rose.” Want to let that sink in? Yes, this is a real historical novel, not a romance in ancient clothing nor a gamer’s how-to book. Good novels are rare, good historical novels even rarer.
Buy this book and read it. Buy a couple to give your more literate friends for Christmas. I bought the trade paper and its production values are excellent; the print is easy to read, the prose crisp and as sharp and clear as you’d expect from an author such as Jess Hughes, who has been a police detective and Marine Corps veteran. Hughes knows war and intrigue and human failings firsthand. What Hughes has learned in life informs this novel with his expertise in treachery, in war, and in crime, lending this story great substance without ever being wordy or awkward. Men will be as diverted as women by this novel, part action-adventure, part suspenseful thriller, and part a ticket to another place and time.
The Sign of the Eagle is satisfyingly complete in itself, yet also forms the first half of Hughes’ duology set in the 1st century AD. The next book by Jess Steven Hughes, one hopes, is coming soon.