Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage

Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage by David Gibbins

Carthage, 146 BC.

This is the story of Fabius Petronius Secundus – Roman legionary and centurion – and his rise to power: from his first battle against the Macedonians, that seals the fate of Alexander the Great's Empire, to total war in North Africa and the Seige of Carthage.
Fabius's success brings him admiration and respect, but also attracts greed and jealousy – the closest allies can become the bitterest of enemies. And then there is Julia, of the Caesar family – a dark horse in love with both Fabius and his rival Paullus – who causes a vicious feud.

Ultimately for Fabius, it will come down to one question: how much is he prepared to sacrifice for his vision of Rome?

In the last couple of weeks I have been catching up with my Roman fiction, it is a genre that I like very much, and when I was offered to review Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage I readily jumped to the occasion, being both a story set in the Roman times AND being inspired by the popular computer game Total War Rome AND being written by an author who knows his Roman times, I knew it has to be good. The author David Gibbins already has a great repertoire of books behind his name and is a New York Times best selling author. David Gibbins has studied archeology intensively and has worked in teaching Roman archeology and ancient history. Several of his earlier book also had the focus of Roman history behind them. 

The aim of Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage is to make a tie-in with the popular computer game. If you know the video game you undoubtedly picture the large scale infantry battles. Well, Destroy Carthage is quite something different. When I first thought of this tie-in I was thinking of how such a large scale battle could be captured in a book but David Gibbins steers into another direction. Instead of laying the focus on the large battles, the focus is on two characters: Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus or Scipio for short and Fabius Pretoronius Secundus. Scipio isn´t a fictional character. It is Scipio's career that creates the framework of the story for Destroy Carthage

The first thing that falls to note in Destroy Carthage is the level of history that is used. In the beginning of the book there are several explanations of terms that are used throughout the book and as soon as you start reading the introductory notes proved to be valuable and really helped to set the mood and intention of the story straight. Just take the whole setup of from the items used in the fights, banners to swords, giving those few explanations about the gear all through to the different types of units like chariots and elephants and siege weapons this gave a really grand feel to Destroy Carthage. Added to this is the accurate timeline. The story picks up in 168 BC at the battle of Pydna then skips back to 3 month prior before that battle and later going to 167 BC etc. Now within each of these parts David Gibbins tells a lot of the overall developments and the events that shaped Scipio's career, first focusing more on the background of Scipio and how he is a bit of the prodigy of the legend of Carthage, how Scipio Africanus (the grandfather of the Scipio you follow in Destroy Carthage) brought Hannibal down and how this legacy of this shadows Scipio. Later the focus is on the part of the title of the book Destroy Carthage has on task to live up to as well... 

The pacing of the story of Destroy Carthage is done in a different way then what I had expected. The combination of the different parts and the dialogues therein with the different characters really has it’s own way. Like I mentioned above the story does take place over course of several years and the events do follow up on each other, and leads to an inevitable encounter, but how this is build up is quite unique. Because besides the fighting of the Roman army, you really get to see and feel the background of mainly Scipio and Fabius and how they are planning their next moves. This gave a nice insight in the history of Scipio’s career but also causes both Scipio and Fabius to be highlighted as important characters, they are the main characters so this was a plus for me. Since the timeframe does skip forward a few years each time I found that the focus on several characters was a nice feature and a must to get to know more about the actions of why they were initiated. The conversing of Scipio with his advisers and Fabius really felt like they were sitting around a table strategically plotting their next actions. In the spur of those moments you really felt the tension rising. However there is one small note about the characters, when you first get to meet each one they do seem new and fresh and they actually do have their own personalities for example Scipio is determined, honour bound but quite ruthless and brutal at the same time. Fabius is on some level just as brutal but more reigned in until he is facing of the enemy in battle. I was hoping to actually see more of an character development overall in the story, however this wasn’t really happening. It’s not really a bad point of the book since I think the focus of the story was more on showing the rich history of Scipio that led to the destruction of Carthage, but there are enough fictional characters like Fabius that could have taken the storyline perhaps that much further. 

Now for the part where Destroy Carthage excels which is battle and intrigue. A definite plus of Destroy Carthage are the graphic battle scenes. In the beginning of the book with the battle of Pydna you already get a glimpse, but later the single encounters with assassins and the siege of Carthage only add more in the story. In describing the action scenes David Gibbins doesn’t leave out the gory detail accompanied in the hand to hand combat of the Roman Legionaires. Now I have read quite a few battles scenes but haven’t encountered any that inspired a feeling of this magnitude. This feeling is also mainly achieved by all the things that David Gibbins includes when “kitting” out the armies, from cavalry, shield formations, elephants and siege engines; everything is included and really inspires the grandness and viciousness of the Roman empire. 

Destroy Carthage manages to directly set the setting straight for the Total War Rome series. It’s graphic, action/packed and often violent in the combat scenes but also has a lot of other elements working in its advantage like the intrigue you are used to see in the Roman times. The element that makes Destroy Carthage stands out is the usage of detail of the ancient Roman history, David Gibbins really shows that he knows his history. From weapons to siege engines and other units but also its geography. It´s a great feature and an even greater pleasure to read. By focusing on Scipio’s career with bringing down Carthage really added another dimension to the existing videogame making the switch from the big battles scenes towards focusing on what went on more behind the scenes of the major battles. The start up of the story had the right pacing and only further increased to be more interesting as the story progressed, jumping to different times and taking the storyline further towards an inevitable encounter in the end. Though you have the narrow focus on several characters, this didn’t draw away the attention on the larger scale and the battle are just superbly plotted out. The clashes of the warriors are described in utter detail that greatly reflects the brutal face-to-face combat scenes. And with the mentioning of The war has just begun on the last page, I know we will be seeing more of this series!

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