Gaius Publius Marcellinus is the Praetor (military leader) of this expedition to conquer what ever gets in their way. Tasked with finding the ever elusive and mythological “City of Gold” that almost every conquering force seems to want to find, he hopes this will be his last campaign before retiring back to Rome to a daughter he barely knows. One would think that his forces would be the best of the best, but most of his men were the equivalent of drafted and did not want to travel so far from their homes. The exceptions are the small Norse contingent who excels in reconnaissance. At first, no one seems to mind, as the first natives they come across after landing are easily conquered and enslaved. Then, men start disappearing by ones and twos. A few are found mutilated while others are never found at all.
The Romans have crossed into the lands of the Iroqua Nation.
His men are scared, discipline begins to break down, and Gaius finds himself with a mutiny on his hands. Barely able to hold them together, the Romans are shocked when a woman walks into the camp, clearly not afraid of any of them. She introduces herself as Sisika. Gaius lets her go after she promises to tell the Iroqua not to fight. The Iroqua are not his mission—the gold is. They march on feeling glory is not far ahead.
When one of his Norsemen returns with a report that there is a city of over 10,000 people living on the plains with something called a Thunderbird, Gaius urges his men forward, thinking this is his city of gold. They arrive to find that the Cahokia of the city is covered in giant mounds with plenty of food which the Romans are now desperate for. But, the Cahokia are prepared to fight with more than bows, arrows, and staffs. They have perfected gliders and decimate the Roman Legion with their version of Greek fire, pouring it on them from the air then lighting it on fire with lit arrows. The only survivor is Gaius.
Kept alive to teach the Cahokia Roman military techniques and tactics, Gaius realizes that he is now the slave, but as he becomes part of the Cahokia community, Gaius realizes that this may be his true home and when the next Roman Legion comes he must make a decision—who will he fight for?
Mr. Smale has put together a well-written and fascinating story of an alternate history of Rome and the Americas. Told from Gaius’s point of view, he is a rich and fully developed character. The battle scenes were terrific and engaging. You felt you were on the battlefield. Clearly, the author has done an immense amount of research and it shows; however, I feel that the story would have been better served and more interesting if it had included other viewpoints. It would have been nice to get into the heads of his captors, just to see how they viewed not only the Roman invasion, but how they viewed the other Indian nations, as well.
There are two more volumes coming in this trilogy.
*I received an eARC of this book from the publisher through NetGalley.