by Thomas M D Brooke
CreateSpace Independent Publishing Platform
29th June 2015
Cover Design by Design for Writers
I first heard about this book on Twitter and initially I was drawn to having a look at the blog of the author, Thomas Brooke.
Thomas got in touch and we had a short conversation about our joint interest in the Roman era and a few days later I was in receipt of a Proof Copy of his first novel. Much obliged to Thomas for the book.
I have said many times on this Blog that I only review publications I enjoy. Given the interest I have in the era and the amount of books I have read it was reasonable to assume I’d enjoy this book. So far I’ve only reviewed Roman historical fiction by Simon Scarrow but I’ve read a number of authors on the topic, as I discussed with Thomas.
This book is set in 9AD with the action taking place in Rome and Germany.
Germany in 9AD. If you don’t know what occurred in that year you can find out by reading this novel. If you do know then you will know that there is plenty of scope for an Author to use imagination alongside historical fact.
That is indeed what is done in Roman Mask. Many of the characters in the book are real historical figures, major and minor, such as Emperor Augustus, Livia Drusilla (his wife) and Governor Publius Quinctilius Varus. The third name in the list confirmed to me the setting for the story. The main character is fictional, Gaius Cassius Aprilis, a Tribune in the Roman Army.
The story is told from the viewpoint of Cassius with first person narration. We are therefore fully aware of the drives and opinions of the protagonist. It is through Cassius that the historical facts are tied together through fiction.
We first join Cassius in the Prologue, set a few years before the main action takes place. Here he is in command of a Cohort of the 18th Legion. They are inside a hurriedly constructed fortification facing a much larger German warband. We can see his fears and doubts as he leads his men in what he thinks is a doomed defence.
Then we meet Cassius in 9AD. A broken man hiding behind a fame that has dubbed him a hero while he considers himself a coward. He has left the army, he is a playboy, son of a wealthy man, a member of the Patrician class. He drinks to excess, parties with a bad crowd and has loose morals regarding women. He uses his reputation as a hero of Rome to entertain himself despite knowing his nerve is broken.
Quite frankly he comes across as a rather unlikable fellow. He is popular with Citizens and Soldiers alike, because he milks his fame and so far no one has seen through him. Cassius knows his strengths and weaknesses and it is this that carries him through. He does have the redeeming quality at least of regretting some of the things he does. Of course we, modern readers, are also aware of PTSD, which he clearly has experienced.
Cassius is sent back to Germany by Augustus. His childhood friend, Julius Arminus, a German Prince who had gained Equestrian class as a Roman Citizen was now the King of the Cherusci, one of the largest Germanic tribes, an ally of Rome. Cassius was charged with aiding Governor Varus in his dealings with the Germanic tribes, utilising his close friendship with the new Client King. Arminius and many of the Germanic characters are also genuine historical characters.
Paired with a young, eager but untested, Tribune, Marcus Scavea, Cassius is soon back exactly where he doesn’t want to be. In German and in the army.
Given that we know fully what Cassius thinks and feels throughout we nevertheless have a narrator who can only deliver information to us as he sees it. In some ways we have a naive narrator, the reader can at times second guess some of the characters. However I didn’t see through all the mist that can shroud the way we see others.
Knowing the history involved in the story seeing how it unfolded for Cassius was very absorbing. So this flawed character clearly served his purpose in guiding me through his world.
The characters were consistent in their behaviours, from the point of view we see through Cassius. The supporting cast do appear to be well rounded, with most showing some strengths and weaknesses of their own. The locations are mostly described well but I do think my exposure to the era assisted me in this respect. The description of Roman army and their tactics compared to the Germans is consistent with modern understanding while coloured by the views of Cassius.
A very well thought out plot with plenty of movement and a lot of character development.
This was a thoroughly enjoyable read and I’d love to read more.