I received an eARC from the publishers through NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. It has not affected my opinions.
Genre: Historical Age Range: Adult Star Rating: 3.5 stars Series: yes - second book of trilogy
*SPOILER ALERT: contains SPOILERS for A WINTER WAR*
In the hard, unforgiving land at the northernmost point of the Roman Empire lies a great wall. Once, the edge had been but a thing of thought and dreams, but one day the great Emperor from across the water had grown tired of borders made from thoughts and dreams. So, a wall was raised from the earth at his command. From afar, it looked invincible.
Yet every wall has its weaknesses – if one looks close enough.
In its shadow, gather five thousand fearsome soldiers. Men bred to fight and kill. The Sarmatians have suffered capture and defeat, but under a new command they are prepared to fight again.
For of the other side of the wall there are rumours. Of men closer to giants, of warriors who fight without fear or restraint. And the Sarmatians are called to defend against them.
To stand and fight, to die for Rome.
Blurb taken from Goodreads. Add to your shelves here.
THE IRON WAY is the second instalment in the Sarmatian trilogy, following Kai, Arite, and Lucius as the Sarmatians are posted to Roman Britain and Hadrian’s wall.
Roman Britain and Hadrian’s wall are big things in the British education. Despite being a southerner (and thus not actually seeing the wall yet!), it always excites me to get a book about the wall. It’s just so ingrained into history classes from a young age.
I really liked the outsider approach this book took. The Sarmatians are doubly outsiders – outsiders to the Romans but having to work with them, and outsiders to Britain. No one is really an “insider” here – the women are being restricted to roles that aren’t their, Lucius no longer really fits the Roman mould he has to fill, the native Britons have been made outsiders in their own lands by the conquering Romans. The prevalence of this “outsiderness” gives the book an uneasy, bleak feel. No one is comfortable, so there are tinderboxes ready to spark everywhere you turn. It really helps with the tension and atmosphere.
The POV balance is a bit more even in the book, firmly written from three perspective rather than two with some occasional scenes from Lucius’ perspective (which is what A WINTER WAR was.) I really liked seeing more from Lucius. Not only did it allow for a deeper look at the games being played by senior Romans and the various powers that had to be balanced, but also to see him struggling with the knowledge that the Roman command had lied to the Sarmatians and how he was stuck between the orders from on high and his own (good-faith) oaths to the Sarmatians.
I didn’t, though, quite understand why Lucius felt Kai had betrayed him when the truth came out – which action in that moment meant both men felt betrayed by the other. Kai so clearly was betrayed (while Lucius had made the initial promise believing it to be true, he’d then held back the information once he knew the truth) but I couldn’t see how his actions were a betrayal. He was hurt and so I was firmly on his side. It did mean that the emotional dynamic at the end didn’t make sense and I never felt like Lucius had any right to feel hurt. He should have been grateful that Kai was still standing beside him!
One book to go in this trilogy and I am sure the cost will be high. While I wouldn’t say this series is a tragedy (that implies to me that the events and disasters are personal failings that come from not being able to recognise and correct a personal flaw), it is bleak. Which is accurate to the history. You know it’s going to end badly, but not because of the characters’ decisions but because of the situations they’re put in.
Read my reviews of other books by Tim Leach:
The Sarmatian (this series):
- A WINTER WAR (#1)