Give Me Back my Legions!
© 2009 Harry Turtledove
Give Me Back My Legions! is a piece of historical fiction by Harry Turtledove, detailing the why and how of Rome’s savage defeat at the hands of German tribesmen in the Teutoburg Forest. I read it primarily for the Roman setting. While a mildly entertaining and quick read, the book is the weakest Turtledove I’ve yet read.
Give Me Back My Legions is limited in scope, following two main characters through three years of Roman history. Both are historical and less developed than Turtledove’s usual personalities. The first, Governor Varus of Rome, has been assigned to hasten Germany’s conversion into a Roman province. He earned this difficult task not through his experience and skill as a military commander, but because Augustus intends to invest the area with a tenth of Rome’s military and wants someone trustworthy to oversee them. Varus’ foe is Arminius, a German soldier in the Roman auxiliaries secretly devoted to Rome’s defeat. A citizen of the Empire after twenty years of service, Arminius used that time to study Roman military doctrine and tactics.. He intends to use that knowledge to defeat Rome on the battlefield: while German soldiers are superior in individual combat, they are powerless against formations of highly trained and disicplined Roman legionnaires. Varus and Arminius meet when Arminius’ father-in-law levies charges against him. Varus decides for Arminus after establishing a rapport with the young German, resulting in a cordial friendship that Arminius uses to undermine Varus and lead him into a trap. Although Varus is warned of Arminius’ treasonous intentions by his new friend’s father-in-law, he ignores the warnings — thinking them to be based on personal animosity. Such is Turtledove’s path leading into the Teutoburg Forest.
Give Me Back my Legions has Turtledove’s usual weaknesses, but none of his typical strengths. There’s no mystery as to what will happen: the reader knows from the outset that Rome will be defeated by the Germans, and the obvious means of their demise is established early on. Dialog is atypically stilted and wooden at times, especially Arminius’. This is unfortunate given that the book is essentially two hundred and fifty pages of dialog, leaving the rest for the battle, its aftermath, and Augustus feeling sorry for himself. The battle starts late and is over fairly quickly — as ambushes tend to be. Give Me Back my Legions just isn’t much of a story. I don’t miss the time I spent reading it, but I can’t reccommend it either.