Combat SF from Drake that involves aliens that have Roman legionares do the fighting for them. Drake has that knack for writing long, sometimes twenty-five pages and up long battle scenes that work. They never get repetitive or boring. Exciting stuff.
An alien trading guild uses thousands of Romans they purchased in Mesopotamia to do battle on planets where they can’t use any modern technology against societies that want nothing to do with them.. Their Federation won’t allow advanced technology so it’s swords, javelins etc. Thanks to the aliens Romans killed during an engagement can be brought back to life. The exceptions are brain or spinal injuries. The Romans are immortal.
The book follows several campaigns and the narrative is told via the third person view of Gaius Vibulenas, a legion commander. Other Legionares include eighteen year old Clodius Afer and his friend Pompilius Niger.
After one campaign the soldiers are awarded women. Gaius visits one named Quartilla. The room is dark. When he makes the lights brighten he sees what she really looks like. But..as the saying goes…any port in a storm. The two form a relationship that will come in handy later.
The fifth campaign really explores fighting fire with fire and you won’t want to put that section down until reading the entire account. After the twenty-seventh campaign Gaius and his friends go after some deserters to try and bring them back before the aliens find out what happened. Thanks in part to Falco, a Centurion who is an enemy of Gaius, they find the deserters in a cave and fry them. Falco rides with the alien Commander’s bodyguards and takes every opportunity to harass Gaius.
One major aspect of the book is that you just have to accept how things are. There’s no storyline about how the aliens got to Earth and arranged to purchase the Legion. The Romans lost a decisive battle in Parthia and the aliens said they were just who they were looking for. On to the battlefield. The story does go full circle in that the Commander from the first campaign shows up for the last one where Gaius leads his troops against their captors in an effort to go home. There is a nice ironic twist at the end.
If you like military SF then this is definitely for you.