Living here, just North of the Roman Hadrian’s Wall, I was particularly proud of my three signed Simon Scarrow “Roman” books, which dealt with the life and times of Roman soldiers. I was therefore pleased to be sent a copy of Sword and Scimitar to be reviewed. It’s quite a big book to look at, and I was keen to see if the story was equally big inside.
And the answer was, yes it was.
This is the story of Sir Thomas Barrett, banished from the fighting in Malta, but now recalled to continue the fight against the Ottoman Empire in 1565.
This is not the classic story of the Crusades, of religious battles with much bloodshed. This novel recalls the New World of exploration and probably exploitation by the emerging empires of Elizabethan and Spain, the new learning and tough times of religious clashes. Thomas is the the victim of many forces beyond his control. At the start of the book he makes mistakes, misjudgments, which leave him without a personal faith and drive to fight in these new battles. So why should a man risk everything for a faith he no longer believes in, a cause he no longer holds to?
While I think it can be too restrictive to label books as “men’s”or “women’s”, especially when the latter can appear with not only pink covers but pink page edges (yuck!), it would be daft to fail to acknowledge that this book is aimed primarily at a male readership. Having said that, it is a book of descriptions and actions, of sea journeys and battle. It is a book of men confronting their past when maybe their future depends on their concentration in the next few hours or days. It is a book of subplots and big questions such as why someone fights when their belief seems to have been taken away.
This is a book that requires concentration to understand the battles and experiences of its protagonists. It also held back a little by the subplots which do not seem to add to the narrative, but make it a richer novel. Overall, this is a novel which engages, and is a big read, and is a great addition, even if not Roman, to the Scarrow canon.