Soldier of Rome: Empire of the North
The Artorian Dynasty Book 1
by James Mace
Genre: Historical Fiction
Battle for the Highlands
It’s been forty years since the Roman conquest of southern Britannia. The hostile western regions are at last subdued and twenty years have passed since the cataclysmic Iceni Rebellion in the east. With tribal kingdoms assimilating into Roman culture and the province at relative peace, Imperial Governor Gnaeus Julius Agricola turns his attention north. The once-allied, now hostile Kingdom of Brigantes is divided between factions loyal to Rome and those of the usurper king, Venutius. Following a series of raids, and compelled to flee from imperial retribution, Venutius seeks the aid of a Caledonian chieftain named Calgacus. Calgacus hopes to use a conflict with the Empire to seal his claim as high king of the northern highlands.
In the southern coastal city of Portus Adurni, Gaius Artorius Armiger’s term as governor-mayor is coming to an end. Ten years have passed since Gaius’ last campaign during the Siege of Jerusalem. Ever the soldier, a summons to Londinium leaves him with an intriguing proposition. Knowing his reputation as a military leader, Governor Agricola offers Gaius a return to active service with command of the legendary cavalry regiment Indus’ Horse. Despite trepidation about leaving his wife and children and the lingering effects of old battle injuries, Gaius Artorius dons his armour once more as a soldier of Rome.
Can you, for those who don’t know you already, tell something about yourself and how you became an author?
According to my parents, I’ve always been telling stories since I was about six. I was twelve when I first became interested in Roman history, thanks to the series, I, Claudius, based on the novels by Robert Graves. There is a very dramatic scene when a messenger informs Emperor Augustus of the disaster in Teutoburger Wald, Germania, where three legions were betrayed by their allies and annihilated. It only briefly touches on the campaigns of retribution under Germanicus Caesar (nephew of Emperor Tiberius) from 14 to 16 A.D. I kept thinking that would make for a great novel, but no one ever wrote it. A story grew in my head over the years. Fast-forward to 2004. I was in Iraq and borrowed a friend’s laptop to start writing the story that had been bouncing around for more than a decade. Writing and hitting the gym became my cathartic means of escapism. I completed a finished draft by the time we came home at the end of 2005, with even a couple chapters to a potential sequel.
My very first historical novel, Soldier of Rome: The Legionary, was released in February 2006. It’s far from perfect, and much of me wishes I could go back and rewrite the entire thing from scratch. But there it is. To be fair, it was my first work, and like any other skill, we develop with practice. Sixteen years and twenty-seven books later, I’d like to think I’ve improved a bit.
Describe yourself in 5 words or less!
Author, Historian, Traveller, Athlete, Nerd
When did you first consider yourself a writer?
Probably around the time my fourth book was released. Before then, it was little more than a side hobby. Then my fanbase started growing, with my royalty payments surpassing what I made at my day job. I even had close friends referring to me as an author, which was a nice feeling. In December 2011 I resigned my regular job to focus on writing and haven’t looked back. I cannot stress enough how fortunate I am to make a living doing what I love.
Which of your novels can you imagine made into a movie?
Hmm, how about all of them? I was actually approached by a film producer back in 2008 about The Legionary, though sadly nothing ever came of it. What I’d really like to see is a miniseries based on my Anglo-Zulu War books. Though I’m mostly known for my Roman works, the South African conflict of 1879 between the Zulu Kingdom and the British Empire as a true labour of love that I poured my soul into. There exist two films about the opening days: 1964’s Zulu, starring Sir Michael Caine, and 1979’s Zulu Dawn, starring Peter O’Toole, Burt Lancaster, and Bob Hoskins. That’s about the extent anyone knows about the war. The films are getting up there in age, so fewer people have seen them, and they do feel a bit outdated. Zulu commits the typical 1960s war film error of casting actors who were way too old for their roles; men in their thirties or even forties depicting soldiers who were overwhelmingly in their late teens to early twenties. I’d like to see my Zulu War books filmed as an HBO or Amazon series, as it covers the entirety of the war, not just the opening two battles depicted in the old films. Television seems to be where the best creativity is these days. There’s less constraints due to time, and censorship is mostly a non-issue, at least when compared to the cinema.
I also would not want to see any in-your-face ‘messaging’ which just murders creativity and meaningful storytelling in so many modern films. My motto is: Tell your story and trust in your audience. It’s not up to writers and film makers to force viewers / readers to think a certain way. I, personally, view my books as very anti-war, in a similar vein to Remarque’s All Quiet on the Western Front. However, many readers don’t come to the same conclusion, and that is perfectly fine. All forms of art, be it drawing, painting, sculpture, music, writing, etc., exist for everyone to find their own meaning.
As a writer, what would you choose as your mascot/avatar/spirit animal?
The giraffe, because they’re just awesome.
Who is your hero and why?
Historically I have several. Most notably: Sir Winston Churchill, Theodore Roosevelt, the Duke of Wellington, and Emperor Vespasian. We tend to see them as larger than life, yet all were deeply flawed, in some cases more than most of their contemporaries. They achieved greatness despite their shortcomings and showed great resiliency.
I most admire those who rise above what life throws at them, strive to improve themselves, and selflessly use their talents for the betterment of others. That to me is heroic. My sister is one of my heroes. She’s a certified nursing assistant in a hospital and has dedicated her life to helping others. Like so many in healthcare, the pandemic was a living nightmare for her, yet she persevered. I could never do what she does. I have another dear friend who’s a mental health counsellor; another profession I would never be suited for. Mental health treatment is still stigmatised and neglected, despite some improvements in recent years. I’ve seen a therapist for the past sixteen years, which I am not ashamed to admit. It is impossible to put into words the profound respect I have for those who help others deal with the unseen, yet often most traumatic, burdens.
What is something unique/quirky about you?
I don’t like wearing pants and don’t own a pair of jeans. Unless dressing up in a pair of slacks, one will usually see me in shorts from around February through November.
James Mace is a life-long historian and the author of twenty-seven books, including ten Ancient History best-sellers, and five South African History best-sellers. He penned the initial draft of his first novel, “Soldier of Rome: The Legionary”, as a cathartic means of escapism while serving in Iraq from 2004 to 2005. His works span numerous eras, from Ancient Rome to the British Empire.