The Blood Crows by Simon Scarrow – Book Review [Bane of Kings]

The Blood Crows

Milo, aka “Bane of Kings”, reviews Simon Scarrows historical fiction novel entitled The Blood Crowsthe twelfth novel in the Eagle series focusing on two soldiers in the Roman Empire, Macro and Cato – and is also the first new novel in this series released in two years. It’s  published by Headline Books.

“An excellent and welcoming return to the adventures of Macro and Cato, Simon Scarrow once more proves why he’s one of the best historical fiction writers out there. Fans of the series will love this latest addition – The Blood Crows is not to be missed!” ~Bane of Kings, The Founding Fields

For nearly ten years, the Roman Empire has fought ceaselessly to strengthen its hold over Britannia. But opposition from native tribes led by the ruthless warrior Caratacus threatens to destroy everything. Prefect Cato and Centurion Macro are summoned by Governor Ostorius to Londinium. Tasked with leading a newly formed cavalry cohort into the heartland of Wales, they must destroy the growing resistance. But with Caratacus hatching increasingly ambitious plans and disorder threatening from within Macro and Cato’s own ranks, this final test will push the soldiers to their limits. And if they do not emerge as victors, the Emperor Claudius’s rule may be at stake, and the very foundations of the Roman Empire could be shattered irrevocably.

As long term Founding Fields reviewers will know, I’m a massive fan of Simon Scarrow. In my view, he’s the best historical fiction writer out there today aside from maybe Bernard Cornwell and he’s certainly the best at writing fiction in the Roman Empire. For evidence, you need to look no further than the twelve-strong Eagle series that he continues to write – which although has had a two-year gap between books and eleven and twelve – during the period where Scarrow was able to put out a Macro-centric prequel novel as well as a standalone novel entitled Sword and Scimitar, and even a series of young adult novels focused on a separate character but still set in the era of the Roman Empire. Now though, for the first new novel in the series since Praetorian, Simon Scarrow makes a triumphant return with The Blood Crows.

The Blood CrowsAnd I’m actually going to say something here – I’m still kind of playing catchup with the Eagle series, having only read (and loved) Under the Eagle and The Eagle’s Conquest, the first two novels in the series. But regardless, I couldn’t wait to delve into this latest novel and was pleased to see that Scarrow allowed time for readers to either meet for the first time or be reunited with the series two principal characters – Prefect Cato and Centurion Macro, who have come a long way since the first two novels and not just in rank – something that is even noticeable for someone who has only read Books One and Two like myself.

The first thing that long term readers will note is how well The Blood Crows has improved in terms of narrative from the earlier novels. It’s more polished, more engaging and perhaps even more of a page turner, being a very engrossing and captivating read. You can jump on here just as easily as you could have done at the beginning – the only bit you may find yourself unfamiliar with is the fact that Cato and Macro have already visited Britannia before – but this was something I was aware of heading in as their early adventures are set in what is now the United Kingdom. This was during different times – when they were in the middle of the Claudian Invasion with Macro being the hardened, tough veteran training the new recruit Macro. This book picks up six years later – following adventures across the entire Roman Empire – with the only difference being the reversal in roles, Now, Cato is the higher in rank – a Prefect, whilst Macro still remains a Centurion. It’s an interesting change in story dynamic and it’s nice to see how this has affected their character building over the course of the series.

The Blood Crows is action packed, bloody and gory right the way through. If you’re a fan of violence and bloodthirsty action then this novel will be right up your street – fans of the series will no doubt be familiar with Scarrow’s approach to action scenes as he pulls the reader in and makes The Blood Crows feel like a fresh and engaging novel rather than just a re-hash of what made the earlier novels interesting with some new and interesting plot threads. Scarrow also pays vivid attention to historical detail – we get an interesting look into Roman culture and we really get to see the differences between say the original inhabitants of Britannia and the Romans, for example. When you also take into account that the dialogue is spot on – you really get a feel for how strong this book is – and of course, it’s something that I don’t need to tell to long term readers who will most likely have got their hands on a copy already.

The pacing is pretty enthralling and entertaining. The Blood Crows is literally edge of your seat stuff and Scarrow has mastered the art of balancing between fleshing out the characters beyond two dimensional figures and hooking the reader. Macro and Cato are really well created characters and I really enjoyed reading about them. An added bonus was the fact that there were multiple times where I found myself saying “Just one more chapter,” despite the fact that I’d already said that five chapters ago – and as a result, I sped through this quicker than normal.

So, if you’re interested in reading about the rich history Roman Empire, or are already familiar with Simon Scarrow’s Eagle series and are looking for a place to either get into for the first time, return to after falling behind or return to having waited the past two years for a fresh novel – then The Blood Crows will be right up your street. Superb stuff, and I’m pleased to say that Simon Scarrow has done it again.

VERDICT: 4/5

THE EAGLE SERIES READING ORDER: Under the Eagle, The Eagle’s Conquest, Where the Eagle Hunts, The Eagle and the Wolves, The Eagle’s Prey, The Eagle’s Prophecy, The Eagle in the Sand, Centurion, The Gladiator, The Legion, Praetorian, The Blood Crows

Milo, aka Bane of Kings, is a SFF/Comic reader, and watches a lot of TV. His favourite authors are Neil Gaiman, China Mieville, Jim Butcher, Brandon Sanderson & Iain M. Banks, whilst his favourite TV shows are Battlestar Galactica (2003), Person Of Interest, Firefly, Game of Thrones, & Buffy the Vampire Slayer

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