And it was a deadly and dangerous time for those whose task it was to hold together crumbling lands and vulnerable outposts on the orders of an increasingly corrupt power base in Rome…
If you haven’t guessed already, he’s back – reluctant imperial spy Cassius Corbulo, dispatched into the Roman Army after disgracing himself with a servant girl, is on another mission seemingly impossible in the third of Nick Brown’s stirring, all-action Agent of Rome series.
Brown has become a master of his trade, serving up thrilling Roman history and mystery courtesy of a band of now hard-bitten combatants and comrades whose adventures in imperial wastelands and far-flung hotspots are becoming the stuff of legend.
Immaculate in-depth research gives Brown the authentic ballast on which to build epic and visually vibrant tales of political skulduggery, brutal warfare and the harsh, heart-stopping realities of rank-and-file Roman soldiering.
In The Far Shore, Cassius Corbulo is assigned what appears to be the simple job of sailing to the island of Rhodes with his efficient servant Simo and ex-gladiator bodyguard Indavara to pick up some important official papers.
All goes to plan until he arrives and finds that Augustus Marius Memor, the deputy commander of the Imperial Security Service, has been assassinated at his villa, his head hacked off and taken away.
Cassius is soon dragged into the investigation but his search for the truth is complicated by Memor’s headstrong, haughty daughter Annia who insists on joining in the hunt for the killer.
With bad weather brewing and hostile seas lying in wait, Cassius, Annia and his allies follow the assassin’s trail south on board a rather dilapidated ship captained by a roguish Carthaginian smuggler and his dissolute, dangerous crew.
A terrifying, storm-hit voyage leads them to North Africa, the farthest reaches of the empire, and to Darnis, a city ruined by earthquake where the rules of Roman civilisation have long been abandoned and where Maseene tribesmen, a violent and relentless enemy, wage a deadly battle of wits…
Whether he’s on land or sea, Cassius and his brothers in arms are always at the heart of the scheming and the action. And as the young officer grows in experience and confidence, so too does the strength and credibility of his complex, darkly affectionate and cynically humorous relationship with his two charismatic sidekicks.
Add drama, spine-tingling excitement and intriguing plotlines, and you find a hero and his creator on top form.
(Hodder, paperback, £7.99)