Review: Altar Of Blood – Anthony Riches

Series: Empire IX

My version: Hardback
Genre: Historical Fiction Romans
Hodder & Stoughton
First published: 2016
Pages: 389
, signed

From the cover:
The Tungrians have no sooner returned to Rome than they find themselves tasked with a very different mission to their desperate exploits in Parthia. Ordered to cross the River Rhenus into barbarian Germany and capture a tribal priestess, who maybe the most dangerous person in the empire’s northern border, they are soon subject to the machinations of an old enemy who will stop at nothing to sabotage their plans before they have even set foot on the river’s eastern bank.
But after their Roman enemy is neutralised, they face a challenge greater still. With two of the Bructeri tribe’s greatest treasures in their hands, they must regain Roman territory by crossing the unforgiving wilderness that was the graveyard of Roman imperial strategy two hundred years before, and capture the Bructeri’s vengeful chieftain and his warband can only end in one way – a horrific sacrificial death on the tribe’s altar of blood.

We are now a few books on from the truly awful, childishly poor, The Emperor’s Knives. And I know that Mr Riches himself saw that review, as he bemoaned in a comment made on Facebook, that he had a bad review(s) “with pictures.” So, ever since, I’ve been looking for some improvement, as he himself seemed to suggest at the same time as the “with pictures” comment, that he could do with tightening things up a bit and that there would be (an improvement).

However, improvement, there hasn’t been. Any. Kind. Of.

I didn’t expect an immediate improvement, in the book following Knives, as that could already have been ‘in the bag.’ But, after that, there should have been something to suggest he was taking on board the criticism.


It’s elementary stuff and, I guess, shows both his shortcomings as a writer and the carelessness of his editors and proof-readers. For it is, as I’ve said before, also their responsibility. The only reasons I have ever come up with for their failures to do their jobs properly, are that they are afraid of him, or they are blind.

Starting from the least worst, for example – all feelings are only ever conveyed by facial movements. Though that is when those faces are not ‘a mask of…’ something or other and generally, well… immovable, and/or immobile. Everything happens ‘in an instant.’ All armoury is ‘polished iron.’ I could go on.

Actually, I will go on. Only for a short while, honest. A lot of what follows I have pointed out before and it’s no doubt as irritating for you, as it is for me to pay for and read in the book. However, part of why I want to mention them again, is because they are still appearing.

Then there’s this sort of thing;

“Almaric stepped into the circle, turning a slow circle…”

“After a moment she released him swaying as if tired for a moment.” 

“But I have done enough to allow you to find yourself again. But you will need more than this to make you whole again…”

There are ‘wolfish grin’s of course, but they’re fairly standard for this sort of drivel. What is strange, following on from the previous novel’s dedication to the people who make sure ‘my mistakes never reach your page’, strange, is that he even names and shames people in the acknowledgements. Though I can imagine there were a few other ‘experts’ who threatened him with legal action if he didn’t leave their names off. “I’ll check the military facts for you but don’t you dare you put my name alongside this childish gibberish.”

That eyebrows are raised every half dozen lines, goes without saying, in a wide variety of manners – but never lowered. Picture that for a moment… I’ll stop here.

It is enough nowadays to point out that nothing has improved. Gone backwards in many cases. You can blame him, but (as mentioned above), there are a whole host of others who also need to hang their heads in shame. Those who check this sort of thing – the fuck are you doing all day?! Beta readers (poor sods), what are you actually reading when you say you’re reading this?! Agent, manager, person from the publisher who signs off the proofs! Are those things in Braille or what?!

A glimmer of hope did flitter across my mind (if that’s possible) in the first section –  can’t remember if it was a prologue, an introduction, or a chapter, that there felt as if there were marginally fewer howlers, perhaps small shoots of improvement? Maybe this time I could write about the story, rather than the inane, should be picked up by anyone else reading it before, or even after publication! Mainly before!! I was wrong. It went true to form and got worse and worse. Unreadably worse. Absolute rubbish. No redeeming features. At all. Fuck’s sake, Riches, you actually put your name to this crap!

If this was handed in by a 12-year-old student on a creative writing course, they’d fail.

Don’t buy it here The Book Depository

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