Warrior of Rome: The Amber Road, by Harry Sidebottom

Review published on September 23, 2013.Reviewed by jj redfearn

Nudge Reviewer Rating:

Ballista is going home. Home to the Baltic islands where perpetual skirmish and raid keep the pre-Vikings of the region on their toes. Home to where the two main factions each support a different Roman emperor. Home to where blood feud is inherited from one generation to the next. Home to where fratricide and patricide are loathed but normal. Home to where he has yet more dedicated and determined foes. Home to where his Roman enemies can’t easily reach him. Unless they are sent with him on the same diplomatic mission.

Up to now most of Ballista’s activities have been centered in the middle-east but now he’s thoroughly transferred to middle-earth. Warriors like Eomer, Guthlaf and Morcar battle in the wildlands for their Theodens. Intrigue and infighting abound. Sent by Emperor Gallienus to keep the Angles loyal and ensure they don’t turn to support his rival Postumus, Ballista doesn’t have an easy task ahead of him. He’s not really expected to succeed, not expected to survive, expected never to be heard from again. Its all a win-win. Best that can happen is he succeeds, worst that he dies. Either is fine.

Just getting there is a struggle through the river systems of eastern europe, though Ballista is fortunate to be given the longship Warig for the last leg of his journey. A magnificent gift; without a ship he’d have been done for.

As always Sidebottom seamlessly combines the background of the third century Roman world with a gripping narrative of set-piece battles, single combat and the daily lives of Ballista’s familia and the people around them. Not surprisingly the plethora of middle-earth Angle tribes with their strange names, convoluted allegiances, more convoluted familial ties and feuds, internal strife and internecine warfare is all a bit confusing and perhaps explained a bit too much in places. To help out there’s a glossary no less than twenty four pages long.

Yet another winner from Harry.

PS Warig was given to Ballista by the king of the Harii. A fitting name for the vessel. Warig is Old English for Filthy, Brine-stained, Muck-tub.


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