The Sword and the Throne

The Sword and the Throne by Henry Venmore-Rowland, Aulus Caecina Severus #2

AD 69. Aulus Caecina Severus has thrown in his lot with the hedonistic Vitellius and prepares his legions for a gruelling march over the Alps.

Driven by the desire to repay the treachery of his former patron, the Emperor Galba, and to keep his rival Valens in check, Severus leads his army against barbarian rebellions and against the mountains themselves in his race to reach Italy first. With the vast Po valley almost in sight, news reaches the army that Galba has been killed in a coup, and that Otho has been declared Emperor by the Praetorians who he had bribed to murder their own emperor.

But there is no turning back for Severus, even if he wanted to. The Rhine legions want their man on the throne, and they won't stop until they reach Rome itself. Even once Otho is defeated, the battle for supremacy between Severus and Valens is far from over. The politics of the court and the mob is the new battleground, and Severus needs the help of his wife Salonina and his freedman Totavalas in this constant game of thrones. When stories spread of a new power in the east, Severus has to decide where his real loyalty lies: to his Emperor, to his city or to himself?

Last month I read Henry Venmore-Rowland's debut The Last Caesar, and from the first page he managed to grab my attention from the go and produced a very solid and interesting story with an  engaging narration. The Last Caesar shows an important turning point in the Roman history with the beginnings of the "Year of the Four Emperor's". In the end of The Last Caesar  it came to show that there was only one task left for Caecina to do…

The Sword and Throne picks up directly after The Last Caesar, and you are again following the narration of the main protagonist Aulus Caecina Severus, who is one of the youngest Roman generals. He is  leading his army to liberate, in his opinion, the tyrannical rule of Emperor  Otho. Emperor Galba has been dealt with, but Otho is actually no hair better than Galba. Ceacina supports the Aulus Vitellius Germanicus, who want to become Emperor of Rome and  who will hopefully get Rome back on its feet. It might sound quite simple on paper, marching with you army to take over control and impose a new Emperor and the throne, but The Sword and Throne proves the contrary. It seems that the hardest part isn’t really in taking control but more in keeping it. The Sword and Throne is a great continuation of the story, that was so far being shown in The Last Caesar, and when I reflect upon the whole series The Sword and Throne delivers the message of the series in detail and makes up a great ending.

The Sword and Throne can be roughly divided into two parts. The first is Caecina marching his army to Italy and the second part takes place in the city of Rome itself. This first part of the book really focuses on the continuation of the “rebellion” being led by Caecina. Their journey takes them to fight against the Roman armies of Otho and by his actions Caecina is termed the traitor of Rome. This  part had a great focus on the actually fighting that took place, from field battles down to conquering villages and settlements. In describing these event, Henry Venmore-Rowland really shown that he has a knack of describing the accompanied hardships that you encounter during a long march, what was a definite plus for me was the scene in the Alps this captured both the struggle of the army through a harsh environment and if that wasn’t enough, how Henry Venmore-Rowland described the avalanche just captured the chaos perfectly. Besides this the action scenes are described in such a detail, the vicious and brutal you come expect.. What makes Caecina in my opinion a great protagonist of the series is that he is determined, or at least has been so far, but he has a certain naivity surrounding him, he is young and the things that he sees during his march, the atrocities he discovers in the village leave showed to have scared and impacted him and  it comes to show that he does have a conscious and is more than a mere soldier. This is one of the features that makes the whole narration so interesting. Caecina is writing this to make amends and seek possible redemption of his actions.

The problems that Caecina has to conquer aren’t only shown in the forms of battle and hostile armies, but in people as well. Soon he discovers that amongst some of his best friends are traitors and betrayal comes easy to them. This really provided some unexpected and shocking moments in the book, all that I had learned from several key players is now abandoned and turned around. But Caecina deals with this in a most interesting way.  Caecina tries to relate and connect these events and discusses for himself that it was in the nature of those people. Though he despises them afterwards, it does seem that he understands it. The events that occur later on in the book and his way of viewing being betrayed opened some interesting perspectives and thoughts on Caecina’s character, nicely, nicely done!

For me the most interesting parts were played out in the city of Rome in the second half of the book. Now this is the backstabbing and betrayals that I relate to the perilous times of the Roman Emperors. And further more in this later part Caecina’s character really takes a turn for the better in terms of his development. Caecina is praised to a new rank by the new Emperor Vitellius, but somehow he still misses something. The first part in Rome is a capture of how the normal times must have looked like, a new Emperor, races at the Circus Maximus, all a good time. And above all there is good news for Caecina as wife is pregnant again. But just as everything looked to be fine, a new name comes whispering down… Vespasian and that he is keen on the role as new  Emperor as well. From here on Vitellius’ rule is on the brink… and a certain amount of panic and chaos is rising through the streets of Rome. Caecina is now sent again to remove this threat. But here is where it turn interesting. This was the part that I was waiting for to read. The part where the Alienus originates in Caecina’s name from the first book and the reason WHY he is writing this down. But this I won’t tell or explain as it is something you have to experience yourself. The whole build up with the occasional hints being dropped down in the earlier parts of the story really make the ending just great. 

The last chapters of the book showed a whole different side of Caecina. From just the earlier events of what happened to Caecina’s wife to his action when he went against Vespasian down to the self-reflection on writing down the correct version of his story. And these few chapters really made Caecina’s character come forward and showed in those few pages just how a powerful and part compelling story Henry Venmore-Rowland managed to put down. And even though we know now what Caecina really has done, that he might be a person to take a side to easily to always be on the winning side, it just seems that all the events that Caecina had to go through really made his character this way. It’s hard to judge whether all the actions of Caecina were virtous or that he really was only an opportunist but what I have come to learn is that if I would be in his place, I don’t know how I ever would have handled this. For me Caecina isn’t a good guy nor the bad guy, just someone who was faced with a lot of hard decisions. And we are all human aren’t we? I have to give huge hand with how greatly and detailed Henry Venmore-Rowland told his story. Some times words just fall short.

The Sword and Throne met my expectations and went far above it. What Henry Venmore-Rowland showed in his debut comes to the fullest in his second book. He knows how to write the perfect story and I am looking forward to what other stories he can come up with. I hope this isn’t the last we have seen from him.

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