Review: Valentia – Adam Lofthouse

My version: Pre-publication Paperback
Genre: Historical Fiction, Roman Britain
First published: 2022
Pages: 321
Sent by author.

Reviewed in return for an indecent amount
of hard cash

Meet Tribune Sixtus Victorinus. Drunken soldoer. Absent father. Unlikely hero.
Wall of Hadrian, Britannia, AD 367.
It’s just another day, until it isn’t. Tribune Sixtus Victorinus is scouting north of the wall when he first sees the smoke. Little does he know it is about to change his life forever. Riding south he finds a province in chaos, the local populace in flight, the soldiers absent.
For rebellion is in the air at the far reaches of empire. The land is ablaze, overrun with barbarians, ‘Valentia,’ is the word on everyone’s lips. And no one seems to have the first clue what to do about it.
And so Victorinus must act. He has let his life run to ruin, drunk his youth away. Now he must forge himself into that soldier he always wanted to be, the hero his children think he is.
Because his family are among the missing, and traitors lurk much closer than he could ever have believed.
To save his family, he must first save an empire.

Stop what you’re doing. Stop it right now. Put down that book you’re reading, and go get hold of this book. And read it. I’ll wait.

*very short time passes*

So, what do you think? Pretty damn exceptional, eh? A real Roman barn-stormer, bomb in the middle of all the middling po-faced, Rome was in turmoil, Roman ‘fiction’ you and I have been forced to wade through these past many years. How fresh and urgent, does it feel? Like you gotta read it, read it now and read it fast – and really savour it.

I had wondered Adam might not be able to top – one of my all-time favourites of all time – the quite sublime Oathbreaker, but heck, has he has come back with something inspirational! It ranks up there with the very finest Roman ‘break the mould’ novels like Blood Forest by Geraint Jones, etc.

I particularly enjoyed the confusion and apprehension of the opening chapters and in fact the whole – more or less – first half, where no one, least of all us knows what it going on. No one knows who is doing these awful things, or why. Or where they are going to strike next, or when. All they know is, they will strike again. And again. In fact, it kicks off like a kind of Roman whodunnit? As they stumble upon bodies, burnt villages and rumours everywhere. Clues are hard for anyone to put together into a satisfactory whole, so they get on with the buisness of getting out of the path of whatever wickedness it is that’s coming their way.

The story gradually gives up its secrets and broadens its horizons, without ever taking us too away from the heart of the action and the central character of Victorinus, the sardonic humour of the ordinary soldier, and their stomping ground around Hadrian’s Wall. There are battles, skirmished, dead of night, stomach-tensing creeping through enemy camps, spies, traitors and more – much more. Here on the outer reaches of the empire, the furthest from Rome imaginable for most Romans, where civilisation meets barbarism, something wicked this way comes.

The book is exceptionally well organised and written – a real gripper from start to finish. I may be going too far here (I’m not) but in my opinion, his Roman stories could well be on their way to reinvigorate a Roman era market, that is sorely in need of it. The creeping, crawling into every pore, dread of not knowing what might be behind you, in front of you, in the shadows to the side of the road, in the trees in the forest, around the next bend in the road, is superbly handled. It’s a revitalising, refreshing Roman novel. And, as above, thankfully none of the usual ‘Rome was in turmoil…’ cobblers.

All in all an absolutely marvellous book and a hugely entertaining read. I hope he’s got a follow up planned because, as the great Can once sang – I want more!

You can buy Valentia from Amazon

Photo by Mark mc neill on Unsplash

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