As far as historical fiction authors go, Harry Sidebottom has good credentials – DPhil in ancient history at Oxford, where he has continued on in a teaching role. This knowledge definitely shows in this novel from 2008 (the first of a series called Warrior of Rome). It is set in the 3rd century AD, not one of the most fashionable eras but a lively one nonetheless. The empire is being (just about) ruled by a series of short-lived military emperors as pressure is put on it from both external and internal sources. This story has an officer of barbarian/Angle origin in the Roman army, Ballista, sent east to defend a city against a huge Persian force.
The setting is very good, there’s a host of characters from various backgrounds and a ton of suitable classical references (Satyricon by Petronius is mentioned a lot). Unfortunately for me, something doesn’t quite click – there’s plenty of plot but none of it really draws me in. The barbarian background of Ballista feels a little unecessary. The characters feel like they have a history, but you get the nagging feeling that that backstory might be more interesting.
Would I read more of the series? Probably. It did pick up as I got further into the book. The setting and the detail that Sidebottom provides would allow be enough for me to give it another go. One to check out from the library.