Give Me Back My Legions!
by Harry Turtledove
Review by Bill Lawhorn
St. Martin's Press Hardcover ISBN/ITEM#: 9780312371067
Date: 14 April 2009 List Price $24.95 Amazon US / Amazon UK / Show Official Info /
A plaintive cry heard through the halls of the palace. The agony and pain felt by Augustus Caesar put into words. Publius Quinctilius Varus was entrusted with the power and glory of Rome, and lost the heart of its legions in the north. Author Turtledove provides an account of the loss of three Roman Legions in Teutoberg Forest.
The northeastern roman border was viewed as too long to easily maintain. If Rome could make another German province to the Northeast of the Rhine River, there would be a need for fewer legions and the potential to spread knowledge and civilization to these barbarians. Germanicus was busy putting down a rebellion so Augustus called on his friend Varus to begin the subjugation of the German tribes beyond the Rhine. It all starts well; the tribes submit unwillingly to taxes and begin to see the value of money and trade, but there is trouble on the horizon. Some of the tribesmen don't want change. Varus, for reasons his own, misplaces his trust and leads his troops into disaster. This is their tale.
There is very little primary documentation related to this historic defeat of Roman might. Using what primary source data that is available, including Seutonius who wrote the titular lines, Turtledove creates a realistic tale that accounts for the missteps that lead to the annihilation of three legions. This defeat had to make the Romans question themselves in ways that they hadn't since Hannibal crossed the Alps.
There are a few points of view. The main two are Varus and Arminius, the major players of this story. Other points of view are used to provide additional knowledge to the reader. Arminius was a Roman Auxiliary. While fighting as an auxiliary, Arminius learns the strengths and weaknesses of Rome. He plans to use that knowledge to protect Rome from insinuating its' ways in Germania.
This is straight historic fiction. It is similar to an earlier work of Turtledove, Fort Pillow, in that it recreates a famous event that is not well documented in a plausible way. People that enjoy the works of Simon Scarrow, Alfred Duggan, and Bernard Cornwell will enjoy this novel. Fans of Turtledove's alternative history will also find something to like, but should not expect a change in the story. The Romans will lose, but that doesn't take away from the storytelling.
The historical note at the end clearly lays out the significance of this battle. It may be an event that created the roots of modern Europe. Continued Roman advances would have changed the development of Germania in the coming millennia.
I enjoyed this tale. There wasn't any loss of enjoyment knowing how it would end. Titanic was the top grossing movie for a while even though everyone knows that it sinks. It is the characters and the unknown tale that draws in the reader. I had heard the plaintive cry and now I have a story to go with it. It doesn't matter that it is fictitious.