I picked up this book a couple of days ago, and given my recent binge on Roman historical fiction, it was inevitable that it would creep to the top of my reading list sooner or later. I'd heard excellent things about it in any case, so once I finished my work for the day, I sat down to read it. I looked up an hour – and eight chapters – later. Without quite realizing how much time had passed. It's less and less often these days that I read a book in a single sitting, but with this one, I made an exception.
Roman Mask is written in the first-person, which is usually one of my bugbears; I often find that it is done badly, that it makes it harder to engage with the characters. Not in this case. The plots and twists and turns are wrapped into the lead character, always a different thing to do, and the author manages to pull the reader along an engaging trail of breadcrumbs to the end of the book, and there were a lot of turns that I really didn't see coming.
As usual, I won't be giving away any spoilers, but to anyone who knows anything about Roman history, telling you that it is set in Germania in AD 9, in the camp of Governor Varus, should tell you everything you need to know about where this is heading – right to Teutoberg Forest. One of the greatest defeats the Empire ever faced, where German tribesmen wiped out three legions. I won't share the details of what happens in the plot, instead encouraging you to pick up the book for yourself, but I will say that I was surprised on more than one occasion, and everything fit together as a supplement to the historical record. (I will also say that I knew the story of the battle before reading, but that the knowledge did not at all detract from my enjoyment of the story - moreover, such knowledge is, in my opinion, not needed to enjoy this book. Though I suspect you will want to know more after reading it.)
Therein often lies a problem for the author working in historical fiction, meshing their story into the established history. Part of the game is to find a way to interweave a plot into the established fact – or whatever passes for it, depending very much on the time and place the book is set. Roman Mask does this extremely well, and I was slightly surprised to see that this is the first published work by this author. It certainly doesn't read like that.
There are strong hints that a sequel is in the works (certainly, I hope so) though this book is completely self-contained. Definitely there are places where a follow-on story can be written, and I'll certainly be the first to pick it up when it comes. Suffice to say that I'll be eagerly waiting for more works from this author. This one is a real page turner, and I highly recommend it. I read the Kindle version, which is available here; there is also a paperback version available.