Hannibal's armies were victorious and the defeated Romans were given a choice: Fight to the death or national exile. And so the people of Rome were driven to the far north to build a new nation amidst the barbarians there.
Now, over a century later, they're back to reclaim their city and destroy Carthage.
Already their legions have captured Italy and are making inroads into Sicily. Meanwhile, four of their legions are making an epic march around the entire Mediterranean, as one of Rome's brightest commanders is in Egypt, forming alliances with its Queen and fomenting a scientific and engineering renaissance...
The people of Rome, driven from their very city by a victorious Hannibal, make a long march to the north to found a new "Rome" in the wastes of Gaul.
There, their power once again grows as does their nation until - a century later - they decide that now
is the time to return...now
is the time to retake their lost city, their heart...now
is the time for vengence...now
is the time to crush Carthage...to destroy it...to erase it from the very world...
In this first book, Rome is kicked out of, well, Rome
and after forming a new nation in the Germanic north. After decades of expansion and military growth, they finally send an expedition south, back to Italy, to confront hated Carthage.
Marcus Cornelius Scipio and Titus Norbanus the the two leaders of this expedition and through a mixture of guile and sharp pointy things, manage to take Italy back almost from under Carthage's nose.
Meanwhile, they've arranged to go to the city of Carthage itself, scouting out the heart of this empire by sending commanders and legions as "mercenaries" to fight Carthage's current war with Egypt.
The book ends with Rome openly at war with Carthage, four of their legions "trapped" in Egypt under the extremely
ambitious Titus Norbanus and the book's main hero - Marcus - wooing both Egypt's queen and a school of philosophy at the Alexandrian Library that - in a wild break from every other school - believes philosophers should actually do
things (like build and experiment) rather than just think
Meanwhile, Rome itself (both the northern nation and it's reborn Italian empire) gears up for a final war against Carthage, one they plan to end with Carthage herself ground into dust.
"The Seven Hills"
While Marcus fights a war against Carthage in Egypt, Rome begins its own against Carthage. In both empires, political intrigue winds in and out as their rulers work on not only winning the war...but on winning the war with themselves
as the rulers of their nations.
Meanwhile, Titus begins the long march back to Rome with his four legions.
And as the entire Mediterrainan becomes a battlefield for two empires, Marcus begins to wonder just what Rome will win if it wins...and how much of Rome's soul
This book has Titus leading his legions around the entire edge of the Eastern Mediterranean on a trip back to Rome that's more one big pirate raid than simple march home. He plans to come back to Rome with enough money - and loyal enough legions - that he can write his own ticket to power.
Marcus, meanwhile, is busily worrying that all this success (and money) is going to destroy the fabric of Roman culture. But not worrying so much he's not also busily encouraging his pet philosophers to come up with (militarily) useful inventions to fight Carthage with...
...like submarines...and hang gliders...and armored paddle-wheelers...and steam engines so that those paddle-wheelers won't have to be human-powered for long...and...
...yeah. My disbelief-suspenders went *POING* too.
What's odd about this is most of the rest
of the story is good. Titus is obviously trying to head towards a Caesar-like future - and that he can
points out the very real problems Rome's structure had. Roberts likes
stories set in Roman times (he's got several books in them) and has obviously researched them quite a bit.
So no one else
in the story is inventing like crazy, or upending the entire fabric of ancient-world thought, but Roberts has his main character basically jump-starting a couple of thousand years worth of scientific and engineering advancement and I don't know why. Compare this to what I said in my review of "Rivers of War"
- read at about the same time - and you'll see why this annoyed me so.
Still, it's a good enough read and I'll probably pick up the third book when it comes out...though I strongly expect airships by the end of that one...
Late Note: It doesn't look like the third book is going to be produced (or any others). Sales, apparently, were disappointing...