Monday, January 12, 2009

Germania by John Wilson

I've just discovered Canadian writer John Wilson and I must say that like what I've found! According to the book's jacket, Wilson, a self-described ex-geologist (like moi!) and frustrated historian writes primarily YA historical fiction - fourteen to date. He's also written hundreds of freelance articles, a book about the geology of Canada, Dancing Elephants and Floating Continents and a novel for adults entitled North with Franklin.

I haven't had a chance to read his other books but I thoroughly enjoyed Germania, a novel about a Roman legion ambushed and slaughtered in the wilds of Germania. And if they are half a good as Germania, young teens who enjoy historical fiction will have much to look forward to.

The story is told by Lucius Quintus Claudianus, a member of the 19th Legion Scorpio, specifically the IXth cohort.

Wilson's writing is exceptionally good, and Germania has several qualities that make it a great read for YA's. For example, in the opening chapter of Germania we find Lucius, nearing 100 years of age and living at his sister's grandson's villa just by the northwestern gate of the town of Herculaneum in 79 AD - the year of Mount Vesuvius' famous eruption which destroyed both Herculaneum and Pompeii. Lucius decides to write his story because he as he writes,
"I have just returned from the roof and it is what I saw there that has prompted me to begin this tale. Although the sun still shines above and the sky to the west is as blue as a robin's egg, the picture is altogether different to the east. There a cloud hangs, turning the landscape below it as dark as midnight. It is no ordinary cloud, such as presages a thunderstorm, but an unnatural one that blossoms up in a vast column from the unknown depths of the mountain."
And so Lucius begins to tell us about the events that led up to a long forgotten tragedy, all the while unaware of the disaster about to unfold before him in Herculaneum. As a young apprentice signifer to the IXth Cohort, Lucius and a group of warriors are ambushed and captured by barbarians while on their way to Vetera to join the 19th Legion. They are quickly rescued by Cherusci warriors who are loyal to Rome and are part of the Roman Auxilliary forces. It is at this time that Lucius meets Freya, a Cherusci warrior who is travelling with her uncle Arminius. It is through Freya that Lucius begins to understand what life is like for the barbarian tribes that live on the borders of the Roman territory and what it is like to serve Rome but never be accepted as a an equal in Roman society. When Lucius offers Roman ways as a means to be civilized, Freya questions what being civilized will mean to her way of life and her tribe. It is this struggle to see the benefits Rome offers in contrast to the loss of a way of life and freedom that precipitates barbarian rebellion against Rome.

When the 19th Legion enters Illyria, Bato, leader of the Bruesci tribe rebels and attempts to force the Romans out of Illyria. The ensuing battle is described vividly and provides thrilling insight to Roman warfare. Although Bato is seemingly defeated this time, Freya soon comes to understand what her uncle Arminius is planning. When Arminius must choose between Rome and Cherusci, Freya must decide who she will be loyal to, Arminius, the Cherusci and their way of life or Lucius and Rome.

Wilson's writing is vivid, exciting and he manages to include a great deal of historical fact and information about Roman legions in Germania. The ending while tragic is supremely satisfying. Highly recommended.

Book details:

by John Wilson

Key Porter Books Limited 2008