The Tungrian auxiliary cohorts return to Hadrian’s Wall after their successful Dacian campaign, only to find Britannia in chaos. The legions are overstretched, struggling to man the forts of the northern frontier in the face of increasing barbarian resistance.
The Tungrians are the only soldiers who can be sent into the northern wastes, far beyond the long abandoned wall built by Antoninus, where a lost symbol of imperial power of the Sixth Victorious Legion is reputed to await them. Protected by an impassable swamp and hidden in a fortress atop a high mountain, the eagle of the Sixth legion must be recovered if the legion is to survive.
Marcus and his men must penetrate the heart of the enemy’s strength, ghosting through a deadly wilderness patrolled by vicious huntresses before breaching the walls of the Fang, an all-but-impregnable fort, if they are to rescue the legion’s venerated standard. If successful their escape will be twice as perilous, with the might of a barbarian tribe at their heels.
After reading and really enjoying the previous book in the Empire series, I was glad to be able to dive in to the sixth book, The Eagle’s Vengeance immediately. Fresh of their victorious campaign in Dacia, the Tungrian cohorts return to Britannia only to find themselves sent out on a new mission upon arrival. The events in The Eagle’s Vengeance are directly tied to those from the first three books, in which Calgus – the cohorts’ main adversary in this book – plays an important part. Despite this strong link the story is quite self-contained; you haven’t had to read the previous books to understand this one. This seems to be a pattern with Riches’ books, which seem to be episodic in nature while all part of the same larger narrative arc.
The Eagle’s Vengeance opens with prologue set north of the Antonine Wall and shows us how Calgus manages to scheme his way back into a position of power within the Britannic tribes. It was a powerful sequence and illustrated that there aren’t just power-grabbing, ambitious men in the Roman ranks, but that the Britons have their fair share of them too. From here we move to the First Tungrian cohort, which has just landed back on the shores of Britannia. From there Riches launches us into the action quite quickly, when Scaurus and his men are given a mission to retrieve the Sixth Victorious Legion’s lost Eagle from the impenetrable fortress where it is kept. The Eagle is the embodiment of the Legion’s honour and without it the legion will be disbanded and its leaders will be discharged in disgrace. The Tungrians are under a lot of pressure to complete their mission impossible successfully.
The above forms the set up for what is basically a heist novel. While the main force of the cohort provides a distraction, Marcus and a selected group of soldiers go into Venicones territory covertly to infiltrate the Fang and get the Eagle back. On the surface this seems pretty straight-forward, however Riches manages to layer several story arcs on top of each other, making the mission far less A-to-Z than it looks. While I enjoyed Marcus and company’s covert storyline, I found the main cohort’s arc more compelling, especially once they rejoin forces with Marcus and have to escape a Venicone ambush and do so in what can only be called an epic move. The battle Riches describes is awe-inspiring and had me holding my breath at points. And like in The Wolf’s Gold, Riches shows us the harsh reality of Roman warfare and reminds us that it was a lethal career choice for many, if not most legionnaires—not all of the Tungrians will make it out alive.
Back below the Wall, we’re also given a storyline from the point of view of Marcus’ wife, Felicia. I loved her viewpoint and I was really pleased to read more about her, after seeing her at a bit of a remove in The Wolf’s Gold. Her arc is was very cool and I lost her fearlessness and her interactions with her assistant Annia. I was rather disappointed that we only got so little pages from her point of view. It served the story and showing us more from her perspective would probably have led to unnecessary padding of the narrative, but I still would have loved to have seen more of her.
The Eagle’s Vengeance is a fabulous story, with amazing battle descriptions and quite emotionally touching scenes, both tender and heart-breaking. With this second book I’ve read by Anthony Riches, I’ve certainly become a convert to his writing and I was glad I once again got to move on in the story immediately by picking up The Emperor’s Knives. As The Wolf’s Gold, The Eagle’s Vengeance can be read as a standalone novel, but if you’re anything like me, you’ll only want more of Marcus, the Tungrians, and Anthony Riches’ writing.
This book was provided for review by the publisher.