Review: Bringing together competing groups of warriors from
multiple different time periods to fight a war not their own can’t be easy.
This epic story takes a moment or two to set up
but then skillfully guides you along for the adventure, never leaving you much
time to come up for air. There’s always a new twist coming in, a new element
you hadn’t considered, but always carefully worked in such a way that it seems
completely natural. It relatively quickly focuses in on the three main
characters of Marcus, Lex, and Mac — a Roman Centurion, a US Calvary man, and
the lieutenant of a slightly futuristic UK special forces unit, respectively —
as they struggle to understand why they were selected to help save an alien
race on the far side of the galaxy.
It is impressive to see how the author has blended science fiction with
history and classic Westerns into a cohesive whole, but it is also interesting
to see how he predicts these cultures would come together and interact amongst
each other. Snatched from Earth at the moment of their deaths through a
time-traveling wormhole, the three leaders and their teams have to learn to
understand each other before they can figure out what drives the mindless
attack of the Horde on the Ardenese people. Not only do they need to defeat the
Horde, but they must also overcome a number of additional challenges no one
could have foreseen.
Something that bothered me, especially in the beginning, were the info dumps
between characters. Of course, this was necessary to a great degree in order to
keep the different population groups separate (Romans, US 19th century
cavalrymen and Plains Indians, future era elite soldiers, alien beings from a
planet called Arden). It was also necessary to initiate individuals into their
new home and, to the author’s credit, each introduction provided different
information for the reader about what was actually happening. However, there
were several moments when two relatively equally informed members of a group
were talking amongst themselves and clearly rehashing old information just for
the reader’s benefit. Given the artistry in other parts of the book, it seemed
these sections might have been smoothed a bit more.
Another difficult element of the book at first was the jumping around from
group of characters to group of characters. Keeping all of the names straight
and understanding how each related to each other and eventually to the other
groups within the story was confusing. A character chart would have been
helpful here (my apologies if it already exists and I missed it). As much as I
confused the characters in the beginning, though, I never caught the author
doing so. Even in characterizing how the Ardenese communicate the new situation
to their arrivals, Weston changed the approach based on the individual
character’s own internal understanding. For example, while the future era
special ops guy gets a relatively straight-forward explanation of what
happened, the Cree warrior understands himself to be on a Vision Quest:
The Creator took his newly fashioned weapon and drew the blade across his
palm. Holding his hand before him, he squeezed his fist tightly, so that
scarlet vitality pooled into a natural bowl-shaped depression in the rock at
his feet. Stained-with-Blood noticed a thin gully leading away from the hollow
and toward the cliff.
As the ruby-red ichor flowed toward the edge, it ran into a wall of
invisible resistance. After surging and boiling for a moment, it reared upward.
A birch sapling sprouted from the depths of the turbulent liquid. Growing
quickly, it pushed down thick roots and matured into a majestic specimen of
The rock along the lip of the chasm cracked. The tree shuddered and began to
tip forward. As it fell, it abruptly budded, before exploding into the air.
Stained-with-Blood watched, transfixed, as the seeds were caught up by glowing
cinders from the fire and carried away into the starlit sky.
Since the reader has already seen the explanations offered to several of the
other principle characters, this vision is understood to convey at least as
much meaning to the old Indian warrior as the more straight-forward
explanations given to the previous soldiers. Touches such as this easily make
up for a little awkwardness here and there elsewhere.
The author’s knowledge of military history and his speculations about what
might have happened to the legendary Ninth Roman Legion have led to an amazing
trip through time and space to a world where things are not ever as
straight-forward as they seem. Blending in believable science and classic
elements of old Westerns, Weston has created a truly delightful story worth the
time it takes to read it. At more than 500 pages, that could take a little
while. However, you might want to set the alarm. You’ll be caught up in the
action enough that you might forget to eat dinner! 5 out of 5 stars