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A novel of Caligula's Rome

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Book Review: Geraint Jones's BLOOD FOREST

September 1, 2017 | from Sherry Christie's blog

I’ve never been in the infantry, much less a Roman legion, so all I can say is that BLOOD FOREST sure feels authentic.

Most of this novel takes place among a contubernium of eight men of the Seventeenth Legion, deployed across the Rhine in not-quite-pacified Germania. It all begins when a scrawny, naked man covered in blood is discovered lurking at the site of a horrible massacre of a Roman detachment. He tells the rescuers that he doesn’t remember his name or where he came from, although he is clearly desperate and on his own. The cavalry commander, a charismatic allied German called Arminius, treats him kindly and dubs him “Felix” (lucky).

Unluckily for Felix, his sandals give him away as a former legionary. Arminius takes him to the Roman camp, where he is assigned to a tent unit with six other soldiers dominated by the fearsome veteran Titus. This tight-knit group is far from pleased to have Felix thrust among them. It’s increasingly evident that he harbors a secret, but perhaps not one he will fully admit to himself, let alone to others.

The mystery of Felix’s origins takes BLOOD FOREST to a different level than most swords-and-shields sagas. For those who are unfamiliar with events of 9 AD, I won’t spoil the story by relating more of the plot. Suffice it to say that everything he experiences made me believe, “Yes, it probably was just like that.” Geraint Jones, who served in Afghanistan and Iraq, clearly knows how soldiers think and talk. Their profanity and brutality sound true to life, and all eight men and their centurion, Pavo, come across as real, sympathetic characters. Considering that this is the author’s debut novel, he deserves high praise for his achievement.

By the end, the reader will understand a complicated man who must reconcile his honor with his humanity--and whom, I hope, we will meet again in a sequel.

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