Traitors of Rome
© 2019 Simon Scarrow
Young Tribune Cato and his grizzled enlisted mentor Macro have come a long way together, from the dismal bogs of Britannia to the even more dismal desert wastes of the eastern border. Across the Euphrates stands Rome’s worthiest enemy, Parthia, and though momentarily distracted by a little internal fracas, it won’t be long before the great powers are at each other’s throats once more. Hoping to delay the outbreak of war, Cato’s general sends him forth on a suicide mission — to cross into Parthia, arrange an meeting with King Vologases, and strike a peace treaty that will give Rome time to better prepare its forces. Cato and Macro, who have thrived as a pair, covering each other’s limitations with their respective strengths, are now isolated: while Cato journeys into the unknown, Macro is charged with leading a force of soldiers into the mountains to put down a rebellion from some insignificant little upstart city. Both soldiers of Rome will soon find themselves in the most desperate of straits. Traitors of Rome marks (for me) a triumphant return of some old characters to a new front.
I read the first few Cato and Marco books, set in the conquest of Britain, but lost interest in the constant tribal politics the Romans had to maneuver through to make steady progress; Traitors is set fifteen years after our first meeting with the boys, and they’ve both grown much. The gangly young boy-turned-officer Cato is now an accomplished commander in the prime of his life, with a young son and a broken heart; his mentor Macro is newly married and beginning to wonder if he shouldn’t leave the life of the legion behind to settled down with the Mrs and tend to a farm somewhere. For the time being, both have more pressing matters on their minds: Macro’s expedition into the mountains goes sideways after a broken bridge traps most of his supplies on the wrong side of a river from him, and an aggressive response by the rebels forces his men to bunker down for a brutal winter siege. Cato fares no better, traveling into Parthia alongside an untrustworthy Greek aide who takes a perverse delight in spinning tales (I mentally pictured him as Andrew Robinson, given his Garak-ness), surrounded by Parthians who regard them not as honored ambassadors, but oafish spies. Both men’s character is taxed to the utmost, making Traitors the most memorable Eagles book I’ve read to date. Since the two friends are separated for most of the book, there’s little of the usual humor that comes in their mutual joshing, and between the siege and —- well, another plot development — things get darker than usual. The book is replete with varied battle scenes, though, as the Romans fight across Parthia’s widely-changing landscape.
I shall definitely look forward to more of the boys’ adventures in the east!