Have you ever read a book which you kept coming back to no matter how many books you have read after, and wanted to read and reread and savor every word and reread again? Have you ever read a book where you wonder how the writer could transport you to another time so flawlessly and make you want to get to know the characters in person because they felt so amazingly real? I am sure we all have such books which we can gush about endlessly, and this is one of those books for me.
This is a historical fiction novel with the touch of m/m romance of the kind which I personally do not see nearly enough in the genre, and of the kind which I crave the most. I have read historicals which, as far as I am concerned, really should not classify as such since the settings were badly researched and/or the characters were contemporary-minded (just placed elsewhere in time). Recently, however, I have read several historicals in a row where the settings were well-researched and the characters felt for me…well, let’s just say I felt as if I was reading about aliens from space, so unrelatable the characters felt in the best possible way. And this prompted another reread of this book, where I could not help but hold my breath so badly I wanted my beloved characters to succeed against all odds, survive, and find all the things they are looking for in life.
These characters did not feel as if they have contemporary mentality and were just dressed in Roman costumes. Quite the contrary, in fact. One of the most likeable characters in this story wants to buy his mother ten slaves when he becomes a successful soldier, and no, there is absolutely no chance I could like somebody from my own time wanting to do that. But this author seems to remember that there are at least some character traits that a lot of people could relate to no matter which time we live in, and good guys in this book, while not running to free their slaves or do other anachronistic things, seem to have those traits in abundance — traits like honor, patriotism, courage, and willingness to help their comrades on the battle field.
This is a story which, as blurb tells us, takes place in Rome and one of its provinces. As I said above, this is first and foremost historical fiction about the life in the army of Rome at the time of its glory as much if not more than a m/m romance. The love story between Valerius and Dardanus is definitely there, but it takes a back seat to the rest of the story. This is also a coming of age story for Dardanus, who comes to the home of General Cassius Valerian because his father wants Valerius to take Dardanus under his wing as his ward and maybe later heir.
All of the characters in this book are very well fleshed out, and it was a joy to read about Valerius very reluctantly deciding to be Dardanus’ sponsor for the summer when he starts his military training and slowly, oh so very slowly, coming to realization that he may actually be attracted to young man. Dardanus was so lovely, a twenty-year-old who dreamt about being a soldier and who is blossoming into a real soldier who fights for Rome, and whose admiration of Valerian turns into love. His friends Iocundus, Ellerius, Iallis and couple others were delightful characters as well.
We get treated to very detailed descriptions of Roman army training and battles, but for me it was never boring; in fact, it was so very vivid that I found the pictures the writer painted with words. I was so engrossed, it truly felt as if I was there among the soldiers and was observing the battle field.
My only niggle with the book was the fate of the villain and the villain itself. The villain felt to me more pitiful than villainous, although I totally understand how soldiers of Rome would have felt very differently and had no pity. At the same time, while my little contemporary heart liked how the villain was dealt with, and I do get the explanation of how it would have made sense, it did feel to me a little anachronistic.
Please be warned, there is one m/f sex scene on page, which, while completely making sense in historical context, may turn some readers off.
Originally posted at jessewave reviews (my nick is Sirius there)