I wrote about The Siege in glowing terms after I read it last year, so be prepared for a similar paean for The Imperial Banner, the second in the Agent of Rome series by Nick Brown.
The year is 272AD, two years after the events of The Siege during the Palmyran rebellion, and the young Cassius Quintius Corbulo is again in Syria as an agent of the Imperial Security Service.
The Grain Men (or frumentarii) took the name from their organisation’s original purpose of supplying legions with grain, but went on to become the emperor’s eyes and ears across the empire.
Unlike The Siege, the latest title is much more of a detective story. The Imperial Banner of the title is not Roman as you might imagine, but a priceless Persian artefact.
Faridan’s Banner (or the Derafsh Kaviani) was and is one of the important symbol of Persian and Iranian culture and essential to the forthcoming peace treaty, but it has disappeared en route to Antioch, along with a large amount of treasure.
Cassius has nineteen days to recover the banner’s safe return to preserve the peace or face a punishment posting to Thessalonica.
In the company of his Christian servant, Sumo, who we met in the first book, and Indavara, an ex-gladiator bodyguard, Cassius sets of on an adventure that takes him across half of Syria and lands him in the middle of the political intrigue of Antioch.
Nick Brown has woven together an intricate tale of who and why dunnit and demonstrates his knowledge of the Syria of the period without the detail getting in the way of the story. He also draws his character with a dry humour.
The Imperial Banner does not disappoint and is well worthy of my five stars – I just can’t wait for the next in the series.