The Walls of Rome by Robert M. Kidd
There are times when only an adventurous book with battles and spontaneous decisions will do, and this is an excellent example of the genre. Kidd has given a series of battles for the very heart of the mighty Roman empire a personal slant, choosing to focus on the famous progress of Hannibal across the simply impassible barrier of the Alps, including his famous elephants. The whole situation is seen and contributed to by a young man called Sphax. For those who are not experts in warfare of the period, his inexperience with the distinctive ways of fighting means that he and the reader have to discover what is happening with the various groups and forces who find themselves battling throughout this fast paced and well plotted novel. This is the story of a young man’s progress, as he comes to know and appreciate the different groups he encounters. The enemies of Rome who are fighting across the European mainland are not simply “barbarians” as a vague grouping, but a variety of carefully delineated tribes and nations who find common cause in their opposition to Rome. Of course this brings with it problems, including the lack of a common language, and it is there that Sphax’s ability with and knowledge of various languages is useful and gives him a definite role, despite his original inability to use a javelin as a weapon of war. His ability to make decisions speedily, his irrepressible sense of humour and his instincts are a help in a time of enormous challenge for everyone. He is a well drawn and relatable character at the heart of this book, and I was pleased to have the opportunity to read and review this book.
The beginning of this novel is dramatic. Sphax is a teenager who has spent the last ten years as a slave to Gaius Lucilus and his family. Ill treated generally, he has been taught by two members of the household, Elpis and Airla, covering Latin, Greek, mathematics, logic and philosophy. They had also shown him real affection after his failure to escape from slavery. He was not born as slave, it emerges that his parents were brutally murdered when he was very young by Romans. He has been inspired to make another bid for freedom when he hears of Hannibal’s bid to challenge the might of Rome, and seizes the opportunity to kill “rat face”, his master’s son on a lonely section of road. This leaves him with two horses, both of which he has trained over the last few years. He discovers a secret cache of coins, and decides he will travel onwards to find out more about Hannibal and his attempts to attack the Roman forces. It proves difficult to travel on his own, as wolves inhabit the countryside and the people in an inn in which he spends a night are even more dangerous. After he takes dramatic action to free his stallion, he finds himself a companion, who helps him to catch up with exactly who he is looking for so he can contribute to an action. This is the beginning of a time of discovery for Sphax, and he soon has ample opportunity to show his abilities in various ways.
This is a fascinating book which is very well researched in a variety of battles, weapons and much else in the various settings Splax appears in throughout the book. This research into the battles and understanding of the events of this significant period in Roman history never slows down the action throughout the novel. In addition, the characters are given real personalities even they prove to be minor in the great scheme of things. Sphax is a great character and is placed in a realistic setting. I recommend this book to anyone who enjoys adventure and the tension of battle.