Book Review- Soldier of Fate by Brook Allen

Brook Allen’s Antonius trilogy follows the life of Marcus Antonius from his beginnings as the son of a man disgraced by failure through to the military commander and lover of Cleopatra, Queen of Egypt, tracing his exploits as a military leader and his family relationships. The first, Son of Rome, concentrates on the period from the death of his father through his dissolute youth, his marriage to a freed family slave, the beginning of his career as a military commander and his attempts to redeem the family name. Second in Command takes up Marcus Antonius’s story as second in command to Julius Caesar not only militarily but also representing Caesar in the Roman Senate, where he is not as surefooted as on the battleground. The novel follows Marcus through the upheaval following Caesar’s assassination and the beginnings of his troubled relationship with Caesar’s adopted son, Octavian.

Soldier of Fate begins with Marcus Antonius on campaign in Macedonia and with the conflict between Marcus and Octavian immediately apparent and starkly contrasting the nature of the two men, Marcus the experienced soldier understanding the need for mercy and the fastidious Octavian, imperious and untrustworthy. It is this conflict that underpins this novel.

As well as Marcus’s life as a Triumvir of Rome, military commander and Imperator of the East, his personal life is vividly detailed providing an understanding of the man – his political marriages, his deep love of family, and his alliance, both military and emotional, with Cleopatra – the greatest love of his life. We see through Marcus’s eyes, and it is through his interactions with those around him that their characters emerge and we come to understand them, from the calculating weasel Octavian to the great Cleopatra, imperious yet vulnerable. In Marcus Antonius, Allen has created a rounded character showing both his strengths and weaknesses – a flawed man of great ability.

Allen displays her mastery of the history of Rome and of military history and tactics. She highlights the differences between the culture of Rome and the eastern states as well as vividly recreating the life of a Roman soldier on campaign – the fear, the privations, the dust and the freezing mud, as well as the camaraderie and the glory. It is in his relationships with his men, both comrades and ordinary soldiers, that Marcus Antonius is shown at his best as he suffers and glories with them. The battle scenes are gripping and detailed even to a battle-skimmer like me.

Antonius: Soldier of Fate is an excellent conclusion to this retelling of the life of Marcus Antonius – a man who, over 2,000 years on, still lives in popular imagination.

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