The Iron Way
by Tim Leach
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Pub Date 04 Aug 2022 | Archive Date 04 Aug 2022
Head of Zeus, Head of Zeus -- an Aries Book
AD 175, Vindolanda, Britannia.
After their cavalry was broken by the legions on the frozen waters of the Danube, Sarmatian warrior Kai bought his peoples' lives with a pledge to serve Rome. Bound to the will of the Emperor, the Sarmatians are ready to fight and eager to die – death in battle is the only escape from the dishonour of their defeat.
Exiled from their home lands, they are ordered to take the Iron Way to the far north and the very edge of the Empire. Here, a great wall of stone cuts across the land as straight as the stroke of a sword. On one side, Rome's dominion; on the other, mist and rumours – stories of men closer to giants, of warriors who fight without fear or restraint.
For a people who knew no borders, who were promised war, garrison duty is cruel punishment. But as insurrection stirs on both sides of the wall, Kai will discover that every barrier has its weaknesses – and he will have his chance to fight, perhaps to die.
Reviewers on the Sarmatian Trilogy and Tim Leach:
'Roman military adventure at its best. Ranks with the best historical fiction available today.' Simon Turney
'A great story from a fascinating period... masterfully written with beautiful language.' Historical Novel Society
'The characters feel rounded and real, and the Sarmatians' attempts to keep their world alive and evade the tyrannous reach of Rome are heartbreaking.' The Times
'Tim Leach writes beautifully.' For Winter Nights
'Recommended.' Historical Novel Society
'A poetic, absorbing narrative.' Sunday Times
Available on NetGalley
Average rating from 7 members
I didn't realise that this was a series and so I found some parts a bit confusing. Overall i enjoyed it but will definitely go back to it and reread after I have read the first book.
The second in the excellent trilogy set in the second century and featuring the Sarmatians and Romans. The Sarmatians are now captives of the Romans and have sworn an oath to serve for twenty five years. They have been brought to Britain and guard one of the forts at Hadrians Wall against the wild tribes north of the wall.
Tim Leach's writing is beautifully poetic and atmospheric ; it is a joy to read. The characters earn the reader's respect through their courage and camaraderie. Theirs is a hard life, and through the excellent writing, I felt totally immersed in the historical setting.
I found this an exciting and also a very moving read and I can't wait for the final instalment.
Read his full review on https://rosepointpublishing.com/2022/07/15/the-iron-way-the-sarmatian-trilogy-book-2-by-tim-leach-bookreview-ancienthistoricalfiction/ Rosepoint Publishing.
The Romans had the perfect solution to protect their part of the British Island. Build a wall to keep the “northern hoards” and rabble out. Therefore, they built a very impressive border wall with guard towers every mile to dissuade foreign invaders from attacking and occupying the region.
Thousands of invaders approached the wall carefully but remarkably no defense was supported on the wall and the army just pushed through on their journey to London.
A Roman Centurion was the leader of the defense brigade. He considered this posting to be punishment for his inability to control the population. The prefect hated his job and could not wait to retire but his greatest concern was that he would not be invited to return to Rome or its environs. This was one of his greatest nightmares.
This story exemplifies the schism that was the British Isles during the first one thousand years of the current epoch. The invaders heading toward England simply went to the hole in the wall and advanced on toward London.
The story is an interesting look at the calamity that befell various nomadic tribes which colonized those islands at the time. This book is well written and certainly has poetic license at its core because there is no written history of many of these tribes. Read and enjoy! 4.5 stars – CE Williams
Many thanks to NetGalley and the publisher for providing me with the opportunity to read and review this book.
THE IRON WAY is the second instalment in the Sarmatian trilogy, following Kai, Arite, and Lucius as the Sarmatians are posted to Roman Britain and Hadrian's wall.
Roman Britain and Hadrian's wall are big things in the British education. Despite being a southerner (and thus not actually seeing the wall yet!), it always excites me to get a book about the wall. It's just so ingrained into history classes from a young age.
I really liked the outsider approach this book took. The Sarmatians are doubly outsiders - outsiders to the Romans but having to work with them, and outsiders to Britain. No one is really an "insider" here - the women are being restricted to roles that aren't their, Lucius no longer really fits the Roman mould he has to fill, the native Britons have been made outsiders in their own lands by the conquering Romans. The prevalence of this "outsiderness" gives the book an uneasy, bleak feel. No one is comfortable, so there are tinderboxes ready to spark everywhere you turn. It really helps with the tension and atmosphere.
The POV balance is a bit more even in the book, firmly written from three perspective rather than two with some occasional scenes from Lucius' perspective (which is what A WINTER WAR was.) I really liked seeing more from Lucius. Not only did it allow for a deeper look at the games being played by senior Romans and the various powers that had to be balanced, but also to see him struggling with the knowledge that the Roman command had lied to the Sarmatians and how he was stuck between the orders from on high and his own (good-faith) oaths to the Sarmatians.
I didn't, though, quite understand why Lucius felt Kai had betrayed him when the truth came out - which action in that moment meant both men felt betrayed by the other. Kai so clearly was betrayed (while Lucius had made the initial promise believing it to be true, he'd then held back the information once he knew the truth) but I couldn't see how his actions were a betrayal. He was hurt and so I was firmly on his side. It did mean that the emotional dynamic at the end didn't make sense and I never felt like Lucius had any right to feel hurt. He should have been grateful that Kai was still standing beside him!
One book to go in this trilogy and I am sure the cost will be high. While I wouldn't say this series is a tragedy (that implies to me that the events and disasters are personal failings that come from not being able to recognise and correct a personal flaw), it is bleak. Which is accurate to the history. You know it's going to end badly, but not because of the characters' decisions but because of the situations they're put in.
I confess I had never heard of the Sarmatians before reading this book but it seems I can be forgiven because in his Historical Note the author reveals that very little is known for certain about them. A nomadic, warlike people, they left no written records and minimal archaeological evidence. However, the events in the first book – their defeat by the Romans and a peace settlement the terms of which saw thousands of their warriors sent to the north of Britain – are based on fact.
The book focuses on one band of Sarmatians, made up of five hundred warriors, under their Roman commander, Lucius, who as a result of previous events has become a sort of ‘honorary’ Sarmatian. He’s described at one point as having the soul of a Sarmatian locked in a Roman body. Bound by an oath to serve as part of the Roman army for twenty-five years, the Sarmatians find themselves guarding one of the forts along Hadrian’s Wall against the threat of attack from tribes to the north. It’s not where they want to be. They pine for the wide open spaces of their homeland, ‘the long grass dancing with the wind, the wildflowers shining under the sun, the world open before them beneath an endless sky’. Instead they find themselves confined to the settlement around the fort, in the shadow of Hadrian’s Wall. ‘They saw their prison, the chain of stone that bound them, the symbol of a shameful defeat.’
The author gives the reader a fascinating insight into the Sarmatian people. What we learn is that they are bound together not just by ties of kinship but by sacred oaths and the belief that to die in battle is glorious. Their philosophy? ‘Given the choice between two paths, between safety and danger, one must always go toward sword and spear, and choose the iron way.’ And that’s not just the men because the Sarmatian women are warriors too.
The story is told from the point of view of three main characters – Lucius, his Sarmatian comrade Kai and Arite, the wife of Kai’s former friend. None of them is where they want to be. Lucius recognises his posting to the Wall is a sign of his fall from grace. And he soon discovers he is pawn in the hands of powerful and ambitious men. Kai longs to return to his homeland and see his daughter once again. Arite finds herself unable to use her skills as a warrior, consigned instead to a life of household drudgery. The frustration felt by the Sarmatians creates an atmosphere of extreme tension. Unused to the discipline of a Roman army, there are drunken brawls and petty rivalries.
There are some terrific action scenes that put the reader in the heart of the battle and reveal some quite remarkable aspects of the Sarmatians as a fighting force. But the writing throughout flows beautifully giving a real insight into the thoughts and feelings of a people quite different from ourselves – or at least those of us who don’t gallop across the steppes on huge heavily armoured horses trained to kill.
Having endured one betrayal, the end of the book sees Lucius come to the realisation that what lies ahead for the Sarmatians is a conflict not of their own making but one driven by the personal ambition of others.
I thought The Iron Way was brilliant. Its blend of fascinating historical detail, absorbing storyline, interesting characters and full-on action made it a thoroughly engrossing read. Roll on book three.