I don’t know about you, but I’ve always been a fan of books and movies set in Rome. Gladiator is one of my all-time favorite films, but, honestly, give me a story with no-nonsense Roman dudes with gladius’s (swords), red tunics, and battle cries calling for honor and I’ll be happy.
This is mostly because I enjoy characters who stand for something – even if that something is a duty to an extremely corrupt country – and are willing to fight for it. I’ve also always found the odd mix of barbarism (namely, gladiatorial games and the habit of poisoning high political colleagues whom you happen to find annoying) and extreme sophistication (architecture, literature, not to mention their amazing military forces) found among the Romans to be pretty interesting.
So, when I came across Empire Under Siege by Jason K. Lewis, I was pretty psyched. It combined Fantasy and the Roman Empire (this kind of mixing is called Historical Fantasy, in case you care) into a short novel. The culture, characters, and republic are all reminiscent of Rome just about to fall out of peak power. However, most of the events, and, of course, the names of the countries, are largely based in fantasy:
THERE IS NO HOPE. These are the words shouted among the men of the Adarnan legions. Facing a horde of barbarians, the legionaries fight to keep them from advancing further into the heart of the empire. Though elite warriors trained for combat, they are horribly outnumbered and cannot hold off the horde forever.
General Martius, a hero of old, watches the battle turn and is convinced that there is only one way to win. Forced to jeopardize the lives of many of his men in order to conquer the barbarians, Martius watches as his soldiers break lines, are slaughtered, or driven back. It is then that he realizes victory is lost.
Meanwhile, Conlan, a young officer upon the battle fields, continues to fight a losing battle, watching his friends fall and waiting to meet his own death. But suddenly, warriors of white rush into battle. Easily cutting down the barbarians, these unknown soldiers drive back the horde with unnatural speed, only to vanish once Adarna’s victory is won.
After the battle, Conlan struggles to cope with the death of his close friend. He finds himself wondering if the death of so many men can be justified, if the victory had been worth the carnage. Because of his bravery upon the battlefield, Conlan is to be publically honored and rewarded. But can riches, a promotion, and recognition erase the horrors he has seen? He drowns his sorrows by struggling to uncover the mystery surrounding the warriors in white. Some say they are Gods and Conlan finds himself tempted to believe them.
General Martius, recognized as the man who won the battle against the horde, now holds immense power. But he has gained new enemies also. The nobles of the Adarna fear him, thinking that he may wish to overthrow the empire. Even the Emperor himself may begrudge him his fame. But because of his victory on the field, Martius’s life is safe…for now.
Interestingly enough, Empire Under Siege breaks the one rule that most writers worship: NEVER start a book out with a battle scene. Jason K. Lewis ignores this edict and somehow manages to pull it off. The first third of this book takes place on the battle field. Written in an adrenaline-filled style, it plops you right in the middle of the action without making you feel clueless. Brilliant move on Lewis’s part.
This rest of the story is wonderfully told as well, full of exciting events and intriguing characters. At only 139 pages, never a dull moment takes place.
The novella switches off between several different characters’ points of view. I could almost feel Conlan’s pain as he tries to handle both his emotional and physical wounds from battle. General Martius is the epitome of a Roman legionary: strong, calculating, unafraid (or at least unwilling to admit fear) of anything. Each character had a unique, strong voice.
I also really enjoyed how we get to read about the barbarians. Often bad guy characters are written off as purely evil and senseless killers. This mistake is not made in Empire Under Siege. There is a chapter told from a barbarian’s point of view, giving a bit of insight as to why they are invading Adarna. I really appreciated this.
And you know another thing I liked about this book? No women characters (unless you’re counting the brief glimpse of the warrior goddess, which I’m not). There are some books where female characters simply have no place, and Empire Under Siege is one of them. It’d be pretty hard to pull off a woman legionary who manages to make it through a massive battle against burly barbarian soldiers, especially when the Adarnan men were struggling so much. And I’m pretty sure I’m allowed to say things like that, because I’m a girl. Maybe? Please don’t leave me angry comments….
Anyway, I thought this book was great. The end is a major cliff hanger. I was unlucky enough to read it before the second (Phoenix Rising) and third (The Great Bear) novellas were released, but thankfully you won’t have to suffer through that same ordeal. They can both be found on Amazon.
Jason K. Lewis is an amazingly talented indie author who has a great grip on the crafting of historical fantasy novels, epic battle scenes, and great characters. Plus, he’s from Britain, which makes him cool in my mind for absolutely no logical reason that I can find.
If you order the ebook version of Empire Under Siege today or August 31st, you can get it completely free. How cool is that?
Have you ever read a historical Fantasy…or a book by Jason K. Lewis? Leave a comment below and tell me all about it!
Hannah Heath – bookworm and aspiring author