Review: Conflict of Empires – Sam Barone

My version: Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction, Dawn of man…
 Cornerstone, Century
First published: 2010
ISBN: 9781846056109
Pages: 624

From the cover:
“The beginning of civilisation is fraught with war, invasion, plunder and rapine. The little city state of Akkad is carving out a mini Empire on the banks of the mighty Tigris river – prosperity has returned after the bloody pitched battles waged by Akkad’s ruler Eskkar and his beautiful wife Trella. But now comes Akkad’s greatest threat from the south: Akkad’s rival Sumer, a port city at the hub of the great sea trade routes. Sumer is poised to give birth to the mightiest empire in history. It is ruled by an incestuous parricide and his power hungry sister who are determined to crush and enslave the nation state on their northern borders. Esskar and Trella must prepare their fledgling nation for total war before it is too late. This time it will be a battle not of villages or of roving warrior bands, but a battle for Empire, for the known world, with no quarter given. As ever Eskkar, the ultimate warrior and battle tactician, must pit his wits against a vastly superior force in a battle to the death.”

This is a very long book about not very much. It all basically leads up to the final, albeit huge, extremely well-written, effective and exciting battle. Not a lot more.

From the start, it’s blindingly obvious what’s going to happen here, who is going to emerge triumphant, so nothing I say below will ‘spoil’ it for anyone.

I had no idea this was the third of a series of what seems to be called The Eskkar Saga, when I started it. But it feels like he thought he would write a trilogy before he started. Then thought of an idea. That might have made a short story. Then had to pad it out. And pad out the padding. Length doesn’t necessarily give depth, as this proves. It’s only creating the feeling of “Yes, yes. Get on with it!”

It is set around Summeria, some 3,500-odd years ago, concentrating on the conflict between the cities of Summeria and Akkad. Akkad? No, me neither. The main character is Eskkar, the ‘King’ of Akkad, his cartoon wife who handles the spying and the treachery and is beautiful and all the other cliches you can think of. And the equally cartoon-like “boo, hiss! Oh my goodness, they’re brother and sister, eww!” leaders of Summeria. So you can guess whose side we’re on here.

And at that distance, with all but surely the most serious of scholars having absolutely no idea of what went on then, it might as well be science fiction about life on another planet. Ok, the rivers Euphrates and Tigris might well ring a bell with some, but not a lot more will as this is set before what most people know of as Greek, Roman or many other historical periods. However, he doesn’t even use this to perhaps suggest that here is the beginnings of modern civilisation and here is from where and how the ideas that became modern civilisation developed. Right at the in very end, outside the story, in the afterword, there is a little about the tactics used in the final battle not being so outrageous, given that Alexander used, to similar effect, similar, even more outrageous, tactics later on in history. But this is the only attempt to put the events in any kind of context and it is after the story is finished. Otherwise, even given the fact that it is a thousand years or more (I have no idea of dates for the Greek and Roman periods) before the Greeks and Romans were anywhere near their peak – these are very cultured, very sophisticated, very efficient, very modern and mature military societies. Doesn’t fully ring true, though I have very little idea of what level Summerian culture was at at this point, I would have thought that as it is represented here, is a little over ambitious, shall we say.

And saying it is set in and around Summeria, is also a little misleading. As it actually is about competing cities to the north of Summeria. And Summeria is the hated, overbearing enemy here. Odd.

The main body of the book, and it takes a very long time, going into totally – for the sake of a good story – unnecessary length – is more or less the build up to the final battle. Nothing that could have been skipped over, written more concisely and still had the desired effect, or left out entirely. Training, spying, trying to create tension is fine, but length dilutes its effect. I’m sure that a more casual reader will either give up before half way, or just skip through to the last section. And not miss anything.

As i say, the final, epic, battle is worth the price of entry on its own. Clear, precise, tense and very well done indeed. It almost makes up for having to wade through a lot of nonsense to get there. Though, the book really should have ended there, have let us imagine what might have happened in the period afterwards – I thought it would be that the Akkadians became the civilisation we know now as the Summerians, but he doesn’t say. He goes on a bit longer, tidying up, as though our imaginations aren’t up to it. Diluting the effect of the battle.

I can only rate it as mildly interesting, though I’m going to give it three stars. The battle on its own, is excellently done and should be worth four, but all the preceding guff drags it back to a three. The good bits aren’t long enough and the long bits aren’t good enough. It’s clear he set about wanting to write an epic. And writing endlessly about nothing in particular was how he thought it should be done.

You can buy Conflict Of Empires from The Book Depository

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