Book Review: Marius’ Mules IX: Pax Gallica by SJA Turney

Marius’ Mules IX: Pax Gallica by SJA Turney ⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️⭐️ 8/10

It was this series that first brought me to the work of Simon Turney. There are a large number of authors writing Roman fiction, and it comes in many shades; straight-forward military stories, complex political dramas, murder mysteries and any combination of those you care to search for. Many of them are rather formulaic, some are downright awful, but there are some authors who consistently deliver top quality work; Simon Turney is one of that group.

The series has followed Marcus Falerius Fronto, a member of an old, but not particularly distinguished family, as he has built his reputation as a military commander, largely under the enigma that is Julius Caesar. Their relationship has had many ups and downs, and in an earlier volume, Fronto had left the General to return to civilian life. Following the events of the last book, he has been exiled from Rome, and the authorities are seizing all his assets and property. So he escapes with his extended family to Massilia, but soon finds he won’t be safe even there.

So he makes the decision that he has to go back to his old commander and try and revive his fortunes. But by this time, the conflict between the Senate and Caesar is coming to a head, and everyone is beginning to realise they may have to choose sides.

When he reaches Caesar’s camp with his old friend Galronus, and a few close followers, they agree a deal. In return for Caesar’s offer of future help, Fronto agrees to lead a force to restore order in Aquitania and establish some veteran colonies there to secure the area for the future. However, the military force he is given is not quite what he expected, although he is reunited with some old comrades, who add a lot of character to the ensuing action.

But neither Caesar nor Fronto are fully aware of the task he will face. The area has never really been colonised or controlled by Rome, and the tribes who inhabit the mountains are largely unknown to the Romans. And now those tribes have been brought together by a mysterious and chilling new leader, who is determined to destroy Caesar. It becomes clear that Fronto has to find this new King of the Mountains and eliminate him; but when he finally comes face to face with the man, he is shaken to the core.

This book is slightly different to most of the others in the series so far. They have generally concentrated on fairly well known historical events, and fitted Fronto’s story around them. Here, Fronto is the story. Although the Romans did eventually occupy and colonise the areas described, it was almost incidental to their other activities, and merits little coverage in contemporary sources. So the author has inserted a pause in the long story to give us more about Fronto the man.

For it turns into a voyage into his past; events long forgotten or suppressed in his memory return to haunt him, and he has to face the results of his own actions many years before. Actions that had consequences for him – and his family – but which he believed were resolved. He has to go back to places he would rather avoid, and confront shades from his own memory.

This episode delves further into Fronto’s mind than in any earlier in the series. His life is precarious now, outlawed, he has to risk everything to protect his family and followers. He may still have the power of a legion at his command, but on a personal level he is the weakest he has ever been.

As usual, Simon Turney weaves a strong tale. There are twists and turns – and a few major surprises – but the central framework of Fronto and his closest companions is still there. Believable, three-dimensional people who sometimes find themselves out of their depth.

If you’ve enjoyed the series so far, you’ll certainly enjoy this sojourn into Fronto’s past. If not, I’d suggest you don’t start with this book but go back to the beginning and enjoy the saga in full.

This is the ninth book of a projected fifteen; civil war looms. Fronto has made his choice, and thrown in his lot with Caesar. But how far will he follow the man he has had such a volatile relationship with? I’m looking forward to finding out.

This is a review of the Victrix 2016 Kindle edition.