Review: Vindolanda – Adrian Goldsworthy

Vindolanda Adrian GoldsworthyMy version:
Genre: Historical Fiction Romans, Roman Britain
Head of Zeus
First published: 2017

AD98. Vindolanda, a fort on the edge of the Roman world.

The bustling army base at Vindolanda, lies on the northern frontier of Britannia and the entire Roman world.

In just over 20 years time, the Emperor Hadrian will build his famous wall, but for now defences are weak as tribes rebel against Rome, and local Druids preach the fiery destruction of the invaders.

It falls to Flavius Ferox, Briton and Roman Centurion, to keep the peace. But it will take more than just a soldier’s courage to survive life in Roman Britain.

Vindolanda is a stunningly good book, a story simply wonderfully told, from a new (to me) author and a much-needed (again, maybe, for me) new voice in Roman period Historical Fiction. A hugely impressive novel, made even more impressive by the fact that the good Mr Goldsworthy’s day job, is that of a non-fiction All Things Roman Author. You can tell, tell that he knows his stuff, but the story isn’t loaded down with “listen up class!” little bits and pieces, that, in my experience only serve to slow the story down – to a stop often. This one, wears its learning light on the sleeve and concentrates on story, character and situation.

Vindolanda signatureLike, I suspect, many readers of Roman tales, I can best relate to those set in Britain, Germany at a push. So Vindolanda has that base well covered, but then the surprise for one set in the northern parts of Britannia, is that is is set before Hadrian’s Wall was built. That premise on its own sold it to me. What made me glad I bought, was the fresh, energetic, well-paced writing. As the learned Prof. H. Sidebottom says on the back of my copy, it is, “an instant classic.” What he goes on to say (possibly) is “forget your Anthony Riches’ this is the real deal.” Though maybe those were just the voices in my head.

Again, as HS says Ferox is “a wonderful, charismatic hero.” Reluctant as well, given his background. That kind of ‘which side is he on?’ sort of thing has been done a zillion times in – amongst other genres – Historical Fiction, but you’d never know it here. Here, it is the sense and the sensibility of the character of Ferox that determines his actions. He is a well-drawn, fully functioning creation and one I think could well go on to be one of the classics of Roman Historical Fiction. And, a special mention for his close friend, though sometimes you’d be forgiven for wondering if he really is, Vindex. He’s a gem. And as usual, perhaps even more appropriately from Adrian G., the Historical Note at the end is well worth reading.

There are only a couple of very minor points. ‘Humping’ instead of ‘fucking’? Humped – fucked. There were also a couple of raised eyebrows and an ‘almost imperceptible,’ but otherwise thankfully, and revealingly (meaning listen up you established Hist Fic authors. it can be done), it is Hist-Fic cliche-free.

You can buy Vindolanda from

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