Book Review: The Wall - Historical Fiction done right.
Updated: Aug 1
Written by: Douglas Jackson
Published by: Bantam Press
Historical Setting: Roman Britain
Recommended reading age: 18+ due to adult content
Look, I’m not afraid to admit, that when Douglas Jackson wrapped up the story of his heroic protagonist Gaius Valerius Verrens, I needed a box full of hankies to dry my tears. Over nine stonkingly good books, Gaius had become like a friend to me. Saying goodbye after all those years, all those adventures, was no easy thing. So, it was with a skip in my step, a leap in my lurch, and joy in my jump, when I learned that Douglas Jackson was returning to Roman flavoured historical fiction. This time though, time-traveling to the end of the Empire, to the fall of Roman Britain.
In ‘The Wall’ the reader is transported to, obviously, one of the most iconic walls of them all, ‘Hadrian’s Wall’. The year is 400 AD and, Marcus Flavius Victor is the Lord of the Wall.
Marcus’ seemingly impossible task is to keep in line the disgruntled and poorly paid garrisons responsible for guarding the wall. He’s achieved this impressive feat for some twenty years, but now, with a vast horde of Pictish tribes assembling in the North, it looks like time is up for Marcus and Roman Britain. Or is it? Marcus has one last fiendishly convoluted plan up his armoured sleeve. But will he prove to be Britain’s saviour or its new oppressor? Well, to say, either way, would spoil the rip-roaring, page-turning adventure that awaits you. And I wouldn’t do that to you dear reader, ‘The Wall’ is far too much fun to spoil.
One of the key strengths of ‘The Wall’ is that Douglas doesn’t try to make Marcus Flavius Victor a Gaius Valerius Verrens 2.0. Marcus is very much his own man. Secretive, cold, conniving, and dangerous, suffice to say Marcus is an awesome protagonist. There are layers of depth here, Douglas taking great delight in peeling the skin of Marcus’ character layer by layer, constantly keeping the reader guessing as to Marcus’s true motivations.
At points, ‘The Wall’ reads like a heist movie, the key characters concocting schemes hidden in deceptions covered in secrets. Indeed, part of the fun is seeing how Marcus outwits and outmanoeuvres those arrayed against him, constantly one step ahead. Like a Roman Danny Ocean then, just far more ruthless.
Though, if you are here for the action, don’t let my waffle about heist movies put you off, as ‘The Wall’ provides plenty of punch for your pound. There are some thrilling action sequences to be enjoyed, from a brutal and shocking skirmish in the early going to an epic conflict that closes the book. Douglas’ prose is clear and concise, ensuring the reader knows exactly what is going on, even as thousands of soldiers do deadly battle.
Douglas Jackson’s great skill is to create an environment that feels historically authentic, without sacrificing the pace of the story in the process. There's a huge amount of historical detail to be enjoyed here. However, there are also a great many Roman military terms to brush up on, so do be prepared to head to the Glossary on occasion. There are also a lot of characters in this story, so I found copious flicking to Dramatis Personae was necessary to keep track of everyone. Not all of the characters are painted as vividly as Marcus Flavius Victor. Though, that is a small quibble compared to what is a triumphant and thrilling tale of action and adventure.
A huge thank you to Bantam Press for providing us with a review copy of 'The Wall'.
If you'd like to find out more about the book, please click here to head to the Penguin website.