A valuable piece of advice I took a long time ago, when I was first starting to seriously consider taking up writing as a living, was to make sure to read outside my niche. When I was a kid, science fiction and fantasy provided a huge proportion of my reading, certainly almost the whole of my fiction reading, but I’ve drifted considerably since then. I’d say I read far more non-fiction than fiction these days - always a good source for story and character ideas, no matter what the topic - and while I still read a lot of science-fiction, I probably read more historical fiction than fantasy now.
Something else I have noted increasingly, especially in the last year or so, is that I’m reading on my Kindle even more than I used to. In the ‘old days’, I’d primarily be reading on my Kindle when I was out, travelling on buses or trains, or while waiting for something or another, but that’s less so now that I work from home - and when I go out, more often I’m going for walks rather than taking transport anywhere. Which means podcasts rather than books, as a rule, but that’s another story. Now, I read my Kindle a lot more at home; I’m not even sure why, though the convenience factor must be an issue. (Fiction more than non-fiction; I tend to read almost the majority of my fiction on the Kindle these days.)
That tends to mean that I read a lot more independent authors than I used to, and I’d say that pretty much all of my discoveries this year - of authors whose work I like - were published themselves. I expect that to continue next year, though I do have a substantial backlog of actual paper books that I need to work down. One of these (see, I am getting to the point, even if it’s taking me an age to get there) is the historical fiction writer, S. J. A. Turney, a specialist in Roman fiction, among other things.
I first read his ‘Marius’ Mules’ series, chronicling a soldier serving in the Gallic Wars under the command of Julius Caesar, usually the commander of the Tenth Legion, though if I were to say any more, it would amount to a spoiler, and I detest spoilers. (Which makes it damn hard to write reviews, which is why I don’t do it that often, which is something I aim to change next year.) (Three Witches? Maybe I ought to write Macbeth II: Banquo’s Revenge.) While I strongly recommend that you take a look at them if you have any interest at all in the period, I’m not actually going to talk about them here, but rather at his ‘Pretorian’ series, currently standing at two books, the last of which was released less than a fortnight ago.
As I write this, I just finished the second book, and my only real complaint is that the third book isn’t available yet, but I can be certain that I will be picking it up when he does. As good as the Marius’ Mules series is, this is better. The atmosphere is superb, and the plot twists come thick and fast, even more in the second book than the first; the ending is something I really didn’t see coming, and the characters are well-developed and likable, not always the easiest thing to do. He has a talent for having the reader grow along with his central character, opening up your perceptions on the world as those of the character expand. I’m not going to give any real details of the plots of the two books here, just to say that they have a healthy mix of intrigue, action and character, the triumvirate (see, this is me on a Roman kick) upon which any good book rests.
I’m not remotely qualified to discuss the accuracy of the book, and in a way, I feel attempting to do so would miss the point. I have read enough on the period to know that the feel and tone of the book is spot on, and that I was drawn deep into the world and the setting - and that I didn’t need any in-depth knowledge to understand the plot (though, as a good writer does, I wanted to know more, and will be working on that in the near future) What I did know complemented the story well, but I never got a sense that I was missing anything. Further, he avoids the curse of the dreaded info-dump, painting with a much light brush, something I appreciate and aspire to myself. I know just how hard it can be, and sometimes how tempting it is to just have one of the characters say something, rather than having to tease it in, especially if it is important to the plot. There’s a historical note at the end of each book, something I also appreciate.
What else can I say? Other than once again to recommend giving this series a look. The first book is ‘Praetorian: The Great Game’, and the second ‘Praetorian: The Price of Treason’. You can find them both available on the Kindle, and I believe they are also both in the Kindle Unlimited program, so if you are a subscriber to that, you really have no excuse...