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.
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.
What do you do to unwind and relax?
My hobbies are quite diverse, as I identify as both an athlete and a nerd. Seriously, I get equally excited if someone hands me a set of heavy dumbbells or Dungeons & Dragons dice! Growing up in the 80s, it felt like you were only allowed to be one archetype. You were a jock, a stoner, a nerd, a prep, etc. I was the guy who loved D&D and video games, yet also happened to be on the football and wrestling teams. I say don’t let anyone tell you what your hobbies should or should not be. It doesn’t matter your age, social class, or what society thinks is appropriate. Do what makes you happy. Okay, I’ll get off my soapbox now.
One of my passions is the gym. I absolutely love weightlifting and bodybuilding; not competitively, just for aesthetics and health. I do Body Pump classes twice a week, which is great for muscular endurance. I’m also an avid cyclist and ride about a hundred miles a week on my road bicycle during the summer. I used to race triathlons, though I don’t run anymore. The swim was always my strongest event, which is most people’s worst. Pre-COVID I also used to compete in Spartan Race and may eventually again. Currently I do virtual challenges through a company out of New Zealand called The Conqueror. You log your miles, and it tracks your avatar on a virtual route. The first one I ever did was Hadrian’s Wall in northern England, which I’ve actually hiked the length of in the ‘real world’. Currently, I’m doing a five-challenge series of 1,850 total miles based on Frodo and Sam’s journey in Lord of the Rings.
Oftentimes, I’ll get off my bike or finish up at the gym and (after a shower) immediately pick up my gaming controller. Action Role-Playing Games (RPGs) and real-time strategy are my favourite genres. On a side note, it is my love of the Total War series by Creative Assembly that led me to my cover artist, Rado Javor. A few years ago, I was writing a series about the Great Jewish Revolt. I found a great image of a Roman siege set in the Middle East, painted by Rado. I reached out to him and learned that the image was actually for the game series, Rome: Total War, so he could not sell it to me. However, he did offer to paint original work for me. We soon became friends, and Rado has done twelve of my book covers so far. If you’ve played any of the Total War series by Creative Assembly, you’ve seen his artwork.
I also have a passion for the theatre, though I got a very late start as an actor. About five years ago I began taking acting classes through the Idaho Shakespeare Festival and Boise Contemporary Theatre. I’ve since performed in the Shakespearean plays, Taming of the Shrew and Antony and Cleopatra, with a local troupe called the Boise Bard Players. It is something I love and hope to return to. It is also through my theatre friends that I started playing Dungeons & Dragons again, after a twenty-five-year hiatus. Naturally I also had to take up miniature painting, a hobby from my youth!
One can always tell when I’m at one of the local Axiom gyms, because my user ID on their fitness app is BuffNerd (lol).
What literary pilgrimages have you gone on?
Several, actually. The first was a coast-to-coast trek of northern England along Hadrian’s Wall in 2012. While I have not written about Hadrian’s Wall yet (my books have not caught up to that time period), it was inspiring seeing all the old Roman ruins and visiting the museums along the way.
Another happened by accident in 2013 when I visited a renowned Anglo-Zulu War historian, Ian Knight, at his home in Chichester, England. I was contemplating writing a series of novels about the war, though I knew it would be a few years. Ian then mentioned the Fishbourne Roman Palace a few miles up the road, which I’d never heard of. Turns out it was built for King Cogidubnus of Atrebates, who was a Roman ally during the invasion under Emperor Claudius in 43 A.D. Lo and behold, that was also the subject of the very book I was researching at that time, Soldier of Rome: The Last Campaign. It was during this same trip that I’d planned to visit the Iron Age hillfort of Maiden Castle in Dorset. This ancient stronghold, said to be impenetrable, and was laid siege by Vespasian, twenty-six years before he became emperor. A ring of entrenchments about twenty feet deep circle the hill, which is flat on top. It was inspiring standing along the slopes, knowing that nearly two thousand years earlier they were swarming with legionaries storming the heights!
The greatest literary pilgrimage I ever went on was to South Africa in 2017. My first book in the Anglo-Zulu War series, Brutal Valour: The Tragedy of Isandlwana, had released the previous year. I previously visited the Regimental Museum of the Royal Welsh in Brecon, Wales (whose 24th Regiment fought in the war), but now I needed to see the battlefields! This was arranged by Ian Knight, who’s been leading these tours for about thirty years. It was quite the trek just getting there. Firstly, I flew from Boise, Idaho to London, where I spent a week. Then I met with the tour group, and we flew from London to Johannesburg; an arduous flight of over twelve hours, but at least there were no stops! It was a short hop from there to Durban. There were twenty of us in all. Five were Americans, including me, with most of the rest either British or Australian. All of us became friends, and the tour was spectacular. Ian is a plethora of knowledge, but even if you didn’t care about the history of the Anglo-Zulu War, there was still much to see. The people were wonderful, the scenery just gorgeous, and yes there were lots of animals! The climate surprisingly changes quite drastically from the coastal regions along the Indian Ocean, where it is extremely humid, to more of an arid, high desert just a hundred miles inland. The most emotional part of the journey was the battlefield at Isandlwana. White-painted stone cairns lay scattered about, beneath which are buried the bodies of all the British and allied troops who died on 22 January 1879. I also became close friends with a Zulu gentleman named Dalton, who it turned out is the great-grandson of one of the Zulu protagonists in my series! Many readers have complimented my books for telling the war from both the British and Zulu perspectives. I can thank Dalton for much of this. We also became good friends, and he proved invaluable in learning the Zulu perspective. That trip provided more depth to my writing than all the book research I did combined. I credit it, along with Ian’s assistance, for all five volumes of my Anglo-Zulu War series becoming best-sellers in South African History on Amazon.
On a side note, during our stay at Isandlwana, I learned a gentleman in our group, an Englishman now living Southern Spain, is the brother of one of the actors I know from the Idaho Shakespeare Festival! The world is both huge and small in equal measure.
Follow the tourHEREfor special content and a giveaway!