I’ve written about the Agent of Rome series of novels before, but for some reason not since the second book which is rather remiss of me since I’ve just finished book six.
So, by way of a catch-up, Cassius Corbulo, the reluctant imperial agent has continued to make a name for himself in Rome’s eastern provinces, solving some of the empire’s trickier problems with intelligence, tenacity and a degree of luck.
In the previous book, The Emperor’s Silver, Cassius is trailed by a shadowy group who seem intent on doing him harm. It is only on the final page we discover that they want to kidnap not Cassius, but his bodyguard Indavara for reasons unexplained.
Which is where The Earthly Gods picks up the story. We find Cassius in a state of frenzy as he tries to discover who has kidnapped Indavara and why. A month has passed since it happened with no useful leads to follow and his boss, Abscantius, is impatient for him to return to work with a posting in the west.
I should explain that Cassius is a ‘grain man’, the security arm of the Roman army. He is a reluctant recruit, having been forced into the army by his father as punishment for misdemeanours in his home in Ravenna. But however hesitant he might be to become embroiled in the intrigues that beset the provinces, his natural intelligence and resourcefulness prove their worth to the authorities.
In this he is helped by Simo, his Christian slave and servant and Indavara, the taciturn former gladiator assigned to him. Part of my enjoyment of the books has been to see the development of these characters and the genuine bonds of friendship that grow between them. Cassius may no be able to shake off his arrogance, but he is growing up and learning to value the qualities of those around him.
But back to the plot. Before Cassius can proceed, he is contacted by Kabir, the leader of the Syrian tribesmen who we met in the first novel, The Siege, when he and his auxiliary slingers aided the Romans at the siege of the desert fort of Alauran. He is in a desperate state as his daughter and two friends have been stolen by slavers and he desperately wants the Roman’s help to find them.
Now with four missing people to find, the Cassius risks the wrath of his superiors by going rogue, crossing plague-ridden Asia Minor, ultimately coming up a group of men who are far from being common criminals. And I will say no more to avoid spoiling the plot, other than to say this is Nick Brown’s best read yet and with another cliff-hanger of an ending.
This is an adventure novel in the best tradition and Brown writes with a confidence and knowledge of his subject that easily lets you experience the taste, smells and feel of the eastern Roman Empire in the third century. I really can’t recommend the Agent of Rome series highly enough.