The training scenes of Roman weaponry and military strategy have some of the most nicely rendered scenes in the book, and the story of conquered Germanic tribes uprising against their Roman masters feels suitably epic to warrant these tweaks. The story follows Julius Caesar--no, not that one, another one--as he decides to join a newly commissioned Germanic Legion in order to help his family's financial troubles and see the world.
The leader of his cohort is Constantine, the second in line or secondus imperio to the throne, who conceals his identity because he wants to be judged on the field of battle and not by his connections. While this book takes a wider scope of characters, they are the primary focus. Julius is the guide into the world and Constantine is the plot lynchpin. Together the two form a bond as they are embroiled in an uprising against a long running conspiracy of traitors, Nortlander allies, and Germanic terrorists who kill Constantine's older brother and leave him next in line for the throne. Both Constantine and Julius have compelling motivations and perspectives that bookend the worldview presented in the Brass Legionnaire wonderfully.
However, they aren't given as much rendering to make their struggles compelling enough to really feel suspense for their personal well-being.
Julius Brutus Caesar (of The Steam Empire Chronicles, by Daniel Ottalini) – The Protagonist Speaks
During the training, Julius has moments thinking of his family, but the narrative doesn't mention them during the long siege except at the end view spoiler [after he admits he couldn't find them in the flood hide spoiler ]. Constantine mentions the weight of expectations, but it's not always touched upon as a conflict for him. When a commander assigns his cohort into a special group because he knows he's the secondus imperio and not necessarily because the cohort proved themselves, Constantine's lack of concern or disappointment, even doubt, seems to leave a great set up of Roman nepotism versus honor feeling like a missed opportunity.
This doesn't mean the characters are unlikeable. In fact, the secondary characters came across best. The quirky airship captain, Alexandros had a lot of character and even hinted to a deeper, private motivation when he thought about his ancestor's fight against the Romans and how he wants to make amends. Gwendryn makes for a comedic and brash foil to Julius, although I wish their relationship had been developed more during the training scenes.
Corbus was appropriately menacing as a villain and is given more reasons to hate Rome during the course of the book, so seeing him develop in later installments is something to look forward to.
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Brass Legionnaire is more guided by plot than by characters, and that's great for people who are looking for something more like Turtledove's Guns of the South than Westerfeld's Leviathan. However, Turtledove and epic sci-fi fans should be warned that it's short. At just under two hundred pages, it works almost like an action movie read, half as set up and training and half as war siege pay off.
First hundred pages of the book: Second hundred pages of the book: Yes, I know, Spartans aren't Romans but work with me here Two hundred pages to set up a large rebellion, a deeply felt camaraderie of a cohort, drama and suspense is really, really hard. Ottalini gets most of the basic framework but sometimes you think it would be better if there was just more fleshed out in the characters and their interactions.
The Steam Empire Chronicles Series
Still, for the most part, the book succeeds in what it sets out to do and does so in a fun and engaging way. I think when the list of criticism largely comprises of "but I wanted more of it" then you can at least be reassured that there's a lot of potential to be capitalized on in later novels. And the most important thing you want to ask yourself when reading a novel about steampunk legionnaires is: And yes.
Yes, I was entertained. View 1 comment. May 29, Hazel West rated it really liked it Shelves: great-summer-reads , favorites , unique-books.
I thought this was a great debut novel that gives much promise for the Author's writing career. It's fresh, never been done before, and one of those intriguing books one just has to read because it's such an interesting twist on the norm. Brass Legionnaire has a great premise as being the only novel that mixes steampunk with the Romans and, though I never would have thought of that myself, it really works well in this alternate universe that Daniel Ottalini created in this novel. You get the I thought this was a great debut novel that gives much promise for the Author's writing career.
You get the feel of the traditional Romans, and yet there's a more modern and really awesome steampunk twist to it. All the gadgets and machines were neat and fit in well with the Romans, making it seem that this story could have actually happened in some alternate reality. The action scenes were great and flowed well, and the battle scenes were gory and gave you the feeling of desperation that the characters are feeling. Julius is a likable hero, and Amalia and Corbus made great villains.
Their cause was understandable--a bit cliche, but I have never said no to a cliche story ; The only thing I could complain about was that I usually like to see a little more camaraderie between soldiers, and there wasn't quite enough of that between Julius and some of the supporting characters like Gwendyrn, but yet, I'm a sucker for brotherhood stories so that's just personal preference. Overall, this was a really fun read, the kind of thing that's great to pick up after a long day, and I am eagerly awaiting the next installment of this new series!
View all 4 comments. May 26, Alison rated it really liked it. If a combination of Romans, the s and steampunk seems a little bizarre, don't let that put you off. This author knows his history and has developed the alternate timeline logically into the industrialised period. We feel two main characters' dilemmas, fears, courage and determination as we learn about their backgrounds and motivations.
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They are like young men in any age - longing for something exciting and different - and the author integrates them very deftly into their alternative world. I'm not a steampunk fan per se, but I enjoyed the details of the machines which, while essential, did not swamp the plot or the characters. The action scenes were excellent - I was at those gates, on those towers. And the basic training scenes and the camaraderie interspersed with tiny rivalries made me smile in sympathy as I remembered my own time in uniform.
I'd like to have seen the antagonist better developed. Apart from her political motivation, what had made her such a bitter opponent? Had there been a personal incident or experience in her past? That would have rounded off what is obviously a formidable character. A reader can feel safe i this author's hand and I for one will be buying the next book and the next… Jun 10, Jim rated it really liked it. Great read. Nov 28, Jordan rated it really liked it. This is a great read that combines steampunk culture with an alternate history of the Roman Empire!
What's best about this book is how realistic Ottalini is able to make the whole story seem. My only criticism is that some of the character dialogue seemed weak at times; however, this aspect likely reflected the younger demographic targeted by this book. Bottom line: An awesome read! Jb rated it it was amazing Feb 16, Emma Catherine rated it it was amazing Jun 07, John Sp rated it liked it Aug 14, Vittorio Roberti rated it it was amazing Nov 09, Awk78 rated it it was amazing Jan 17, Joe Rooney rated it really liked it Mar 23, Dean L Swoger rated it liked it Jul 07, Alan rated it liked it May 16, Lucienne Boyce rated it did not like it Jul 30, Jerry rated it liked it May 31, Caitlin rated it really liked it Oct 15, Greg rated it really liked it Jan 17, Tell us a little about the series and the world for new readers.
What would it be like?
Imagine the world without the Dark Ages? Without the Crusades? I explore this possibility in the series, starting with Brass Legionnaire.
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The series starts small, but quickly branches out with new characters, new plot lines, and new locales in subsequent novels! What is the best part about writing an alternate historical story and what are some challenges? Oh wow. I love reading about Alternate History, and writing about it is nearly as much fun. Biggest challenge? Making that something new also something believable. The best alternate history writers are perfect at doing this.
Who is your favorite character to write, and who is one that gives you problems? My favorite character to write is actually Corbus, because his motives start very basic and pure if not good intentioned but get complicated very quickly. His progression from basic villain to arch villain to someone inhabiting a very dark grey zone between the other characters has been incredibly interesting to watch! What are you working on next? What was your favorite book that you read this year?