Hey Space Cadets, here is the next installment in my series of book reviews. I’m just coming out of a reading slump. Lately, life has been chaotic, but now I’m back in the saddle and wanted to share what I just read! Audiobooks have become my friend as I take advantage of the gorgeous summer weather. I don’t normally review books outside of the science fiction genre, though I read plenty of them as well, this one was a military fantasy novel, so I felt like it fit with my brand. And let’s be real, I love nerding out over books! Plus, I know that the author has a new science fiction story coming out, so I wanted to see what Marc was working with!
But enough about me, onto this specific review. Now let’s get to it!
Author: Mark Alan Edelheit
Narrator: Steven Brand
Price: USD 3.99 (Kindle Edition)
Obtained: I bought this novel from Amazon
Rating: 4/5 Grenades
First, let me say that none of what I’ll say in this section couldn’t be found on the back copy of the novel. Heck, I cribbed this summary from the back, and then I add my own twist! And not even much of one, since most of the books I read have kick butt descriptions (aka blurbs). If the blurb doesn’t catch my eye, then I tend to skip the book unless a friend recommends it. Generally speaking, my goal is to provide a spoiler-free review, so here goes nothing!
In this fantastical military fantasy novel, we see what life would be like if you threw the Roman Legions into the middle of Middle Earth. In this world, the empire has endured many centuries but is now threatened by multiple wars and a major rebellion in the South. As a result of this conflict, a nobleman from an infamous family, imperial legionary officer, and a born fighter… Captain Ben Stiger finds himself reassigned from a crack legion to the rebellion simmering in the South. Placed in command of a truly terrible company, the 85th Imperial Foot, he is unknowingly sent on a suicide mission to resupply an isolated outpost, the garrison of Vrell. Along the way, he must rebuild his new company, gain the respect of the men he leads, survive an assassination attempt, fight bandits, rebels, and an agent of an evil god. His companions on this journey of discovery and adventure are the few remaining elven rangers and a paladin on a quest for the High Father. The battle to save the empire and the world begins here in the first book of this exciting series!
If you like military fantasy, you should read this series. There are plenty of battles, sword fights and ancient tactics layered with gritty combat. If this sounds like your flavor of badassery, then you’ve come to the right place!
In this novel, we follow a small group of characters, which is how I like my fictional universes. We meet Captain Stiger and his elf companion and see the life of the legion through his merry band of soldiers. All of the characters were a lot of fun to spend time with again, and made me long for the camaraderie I enjoyed about my time as an infantry sergeant in the US Arm.
Captain Ben Stiger: He’s a grizzled veteran officer of the numerous campaigns, but he felt real and not one of those stereotypical military killers. He was badass, a consummate professional and genuinely good officer for his troops. He’s the kind of guy you’d want on your side in a firefight, well sword fight. We don’t really see any character growth in him, but he was an established veteran, so I didn’t feel cheated. I’m not sure if there are other books with this character, so maybe we see his life story somewhere else, where he grows into his personal traits? While he wasn’t one of my favorite characters in this novel he was well thought out! Overall, I did like him and felt like there was the glimmer of a chance for more to come from him.
Lieutenant Eli’Fa: He’s an enigmatic character, whose origin is shrouded in mystery, not just to the reader but to Captain Stiger as well. He’s a Ranger, and an expert on the forest and serves as a scout in the Legion. He’s lethally effective, and I really wanted him to get more screen time. I felt like his character was the deepest and most complex one in the novel. He was fully developed, but that could be because JRR Tolkien had previously given me a template for all things elven. He DID have pointy teeth, which was an interesting play on this race, so it wasn’t all cookie cutter stereotypes. Physically, he was a beast who could run for hours without stopping and endure the harsh environments of Vrell in the winter. Overall, I would love some stand-alone stories about the elves, or the high born as they’re called in this novel.
Lieutenant Ikely: He’s a young Legion officer, and the XO that Stiger inherited when he was given command of the 85th Imperial Foot. He seemed young and untrained, but willing to learn what it took to become a better officer for his fellow legionnaires. He reminds me of every lost lieutenant who I had to train when I was an infantry sergeant, but his lack of skill doesn’t read incompetence. I really liked him, and I enjoyed his arc. Like the elven ranger, I would love books just about his story.
Lieutenant Lan: He was a young nobleman, the second son in his family who joined the Imperial cavalry to make a name for himself. He leads the 187th Imperial Horse Regiment. He’s a veteran of the last battle to reach Vrell with supplies and lost most of his troops in the encounter. We meet him as a skittish officer, who wants to be better for his men and to avenge himself on an enemy who killed 90 of his men in the last engagement. Throughout the novel, we see him grow as a man, and as an officer. He’s the earnest sort of man, whom you feel like would make an awesome commanding officer.
Father Thomas: He’s a paladin and a preach of the High Father, who is sent to join Stiger in the fight against evil that is dwelling in the South. He’s a big man, with a merry and laid-back personality. He comes across as a friendly traveling monk, whose happy bearing hides an iron spine and dedication to his faith.
Overall, the characters were fun to get to know and felt like the author put some thought into them. The names were a bit confusing, but I listened to this as an audiobook, and when I went into the actual eBook I saw that this wasn’t an issue. This could be because of my hearing issue, apparently rupturing your eardrums multiple times is bad for your hearing, now speak into my good ear! I give these characters 5 out of 5 Grenades and can’t wait to see where the author takes the survivors of the Battle for Castle Vrell!
The premise for this series was to take the kind of Roman Empire in a world that included dwarves, elves, and other magical creatures. It reminded me of Middle Earth, but with the Roman Legion marching around in full kit. The story was easy to follow, but I could be biased because of my academic training. I have a bachelor’s degree in ancient and medieval history, and I was well on my way to a master degree in Colonial American history before my head injury in Iraq. The plot played out chronologically, so no complaints there and the tale was a lot of fun. It offered me escapism and enjoyment, under the banner of a military fantasy novel. This book was like most of the military fiction I love to read, it was an action-packed tale of vengeance, retribution and the arduous nature of loyalty. The story is set as the world in turmoil, where the empire has pushed out too far and the barbarians are now at the gates. I could almost picture the Visigoths lurking around every corner, and image Rome burning. Except this wasn’t set in Italy, it was set in a Middle Earth-esq environment. Overall, the plot was fun with the appropriate amounts of tension and excitement. It was never boring, and the characters and universe behaved in a way that made sense for the worlds the authors created. That said, it was confusing at the end. It felt like the story stopped in a jarring way and left me more confused than ever. It was a good set-up and well-executed premise that held my interest from the first sentence. I can definitely see the potential for bigger things coming from this world. This book is definitely worth checking out, I couldn’t put it down. Well, turn it off since it was an audiobook for me. I really enjoyed the premise, and more importantly, I enjoyed the execution. The pacing could use some work, and the ending felt like it dropped off but I can overlook this since book two is already written and cued up. The premise was unique, and the execution was well done, so I give Marc Alan Edelheit 4 out of 5 Grenades!
This is the first book in the Chronicles of An Imperial Legionary Officer Series, and I thoroughly enjoyed it. Can I say that enough? Okay, back to the nitty-gritty of the review. This novel had a very fleshed out world that was consistent, made sense and sucked you in. It definitely made me want to become part of the larger world. I liked reading about the various species and races that existed on the peripheries of this story, it added depth to the what could’ve been a flat world. I love the battle armor and wouldn’t mind a set for my birthday! The Legion had some sexy kit, and it’s a site to behold if you see it in person. Even in modernity, it has the ability to intimidate! The vividness of the world leaves you wanting to travel this land in your own chariot! It’ll have you desperate to serve the glory of the gods and the Emperor! This world definitely still has some mystery left in it and it kept me hooked. Now I want to know it all and bought all of the books the author has written. Audiobooks too! Shh, don’t tell my wife! I definitely see room for CosPlay and a fandom for this world and can’t wait for my own legionnaire armor! Think they come in an extra fat version? They described the world with plenty of details, and there wasn’t a scene where I couldn’t picture it. The author didn’t reinvent the wheel, instead he stood on the shoulders of giants and built on the existing fantasy troupes. Overall, the world building was well done, and I was sold on the way it happened. It felt believable, and the characters fit within the universe Marc Alan Edleheit created. Like most of the stories I read, this one didn’t take itself too seriously, which allowed you to focus on the fun which is why I read in the first place. I give the world building 5 out of 5 Grenades.
I have to give it to the authors, this novel was chalk full of visualization, and you could definitely imagine yourself in this world. They described things across the sensory spectrum; sights, sounds, smells and even how the world felt. This was especially noticeable with Eli’Fa, the elven lieutenant. While I could visualize all of the characters, I’m not sure if that is because of the writing or my own educational background. Not knocking the author, just trying to let you know where I’m coming from. That said, I do believe that he gave you the building blocks you needed to see it for yourself. Even if you’re not as historically accurate as the author described, you’ll get the drift. I do wish the author had used more descriptive use of language, there were points where it felt repetitive, but it wasn’t so bad you couldn’t enjoy the story. I will say that the author did balance the explanation of this new world with the need to move a story along, which many authors miss. You either have too much, or not enough details and I believe that Marc split the difference. This book didn’t have a single place where I couldn’t picture the scenery and the equipment, which added to the world that felt tangible and I enjoyed it. The author’s description of their universe was evocative, and enough to please rookies and uber fans alike! Seriously, it made you wanna take a moment and explore every nook and cranny, but that’s a sign of an amazingly built universe. As I mentioned when writing about the characters, there is plenty of room in this fun world for side stories and adventure. In summary, other than some repetitive descriptors I didn’t find any issues with the descriptions and was impressed by the literary skills of the authors. The action was gripping, and the story was fun. If you want the action and adventure, then this is the book for you! I give them 4 out of 5 grenades in this category.
This audiobook was excellently executed, though the British accent and pronunciations were a little bit distracting at first. Once you get past the accent and pronunciation, the narrator did an awesome job. The narrator, Steven Brand, was someone I hadn’t heard from before but I would definitely give more books from him a chance. He didn’t bore you, or make you zone out because of his monotone. His performance didn’t feel robotic, nor like a machine was reading the novel too me. Instead, it felt like a friend was sitting with me reading an amazing story that he couldn’t put down. Except, Steven did the voices and made some vocal sound effects for the battle scenes that was amusing. Once I adapted to it, his accents and dramatic reading style kept me engaged throughout the periods I was listening to this book. Speaking of the pronunciation, you get the British vibe with words like lieutenant, which he pronounces like left-tenant. He had an odd pronunciation for the word cuirass as well, but you really did get used to it eventually. Overall, I give him a 4 out of 5 grenades for his performance. Sorry, but the accent and pronunciation drew me out of the story momentarily.
The Series Writ Large:
I read the next two books in this series as well, but I won’t be writing reviews on them. If you’re interested, you can click here to jump to the series landing page. I would basically say the same things, and I don’t want to bore you. There’s also the pesky little fact that their fantasy novels, and I try to focus on science fiction. Like in book 1, the characters were awesome and I really liked them. The audio narrator, Steven Brand, grew on me enough that I bought all of the other audiobooks in this universe. Then I turned around and bought the e-books for the authors entire back catalog. Keep that in mind with my criticism, because I really did love this world and these characters. The plot was well thought out, but the pacing could use some work. In book three the pacing seemed to improve greatly, so there is some hope. The build-up to the battles was perfectly timed and executed, but the boss battles themselves seem to be a little bit rushed and the ending of the books were very abrupt. The main battle in the third book fixed these issues, but then the book dropped off dramatically. Marc is clearly a member of the “Society of the Cliff Hangering Bastards.” I’ve found that I hate this, I want endings that feel complete. There was also the issue with description, and that sometimes they were repetitive and you were left with a déjà vu feeling several times throughout the series. Again, while I point out these faults I bought everything this author has written after reading his first book and plan on buying book for in the series when it comes out. The world building for the other books was excellent as well, and even got better I really like the way he described this everything in the later novels. He built on what was already there, which is exactly what you expect from a series. So, in conclusion, I give this series a solid 4 out of 5 grenades!
I really loved this book, it was a lot of fun to read. It brought back the epic historical fiction battles that I read as a kid. Throw in some of the Middle Earth, my first love, and you’ve got a recipe for awesomeness! This book definitely had a lot of the fast-paced combat full of carnage and the fog of war that I expect from gritty sword fighting. Add in some magic, and you’re all set for a rip-roaring good time! The novel built on what I liked about epic fantasy, with a few twists thrown in to make this novel stand out as one of a kind. There were no deep messages, or political themes, just good clean fun. The story was compelling and made me want to know more about the world that Marc built.
Thinking about this book from the outside, in, I want to talk about the cover. The first thing that caught my eye was the fantastic battle scene with the Roman legionnaire in his full kit. The scene was breathtaking and made you feel like you were in the thick of things. It was an amazingly compelling scene and grabbed my attention from the first glance. This series made me decide to add a section about covers to the book review! I couldn’t take it anymore, wanting to comment on it! Okay, I might be color blind, and art dumb, but you can skip that section if it isn’t your thing! This cover reminded me of the iconic fantasy books I loved as a kid or the posters from the choose your own adventure books I devoured when I was supposed to be studying. When I finally have a dedicated office or man cave, I’m decorating it with these covers! Come to think of it, I say that a lot. Might need a larger office!
Now onto the book itself! The military culture shown was spot on, just what I’d expect from an actual veteran. Except I don’t think the author IS a veteran, he’s just that good. Nobody felt like cookie cutter clichés or paradoxes of the warrior, and the ethos was spot on. I liked how they handled the harsh transition soldiers had when they joined the Legion fold, it felt realistic and realistic. However, you didn’t need a Ph.D. in Roman History to understand the series. This author clearly understood the culture of the ancient grunt! At least, as I remember reading it in college. It also seemed to fit with what I knew from my own time in the Army. Marc Alan Edelheit made it clear that this world was flushed out and didn’t fall into some of the traps most military fiction did. The troops run out of arrows, dumb luck happened, and good soldiers still died. My god, lots of them! I have a feeling that this will change in book two, and I can’t wait. Rivers of blood ran throughout this novel, luckily this time it was the rebel scum dying in droves. The action was intense, and the characters responded as you’d expect in those circumstances. Moving right along, the ground combat described was primal, and immersive. It was everything you want from the genre. The battle scenes were believable, gripping and I never felt like the author missed a chance to get creative with the tactics.
There were only two real issues with this novel for me; pacing and the repetitive descriptions. In some places, it felt like the descriptions repeated themselves and they were rather simplistic. I don’t mean that condescendingly, it kept the action moving but I would love him to get even more visceral with the world. In all fairness, I do tend to nitpick the books I like the most because I’m more vested. If I didn’t enjoy this book so much, I wouldn’t be this picky. The novel was good and easy to read. Moving along, let me talk about my issue with the pacing. The build-up in this novel was fine, but the major boss battle seemed rushed and fell flat for me because of this. Finally, with regards to pacing, the ending of this book felt abrupt. I felt like he should’ve chosen a better place to pause between books but the writing itself was good. However, my issue was with where the breaks between the books were placed. For all my issues with that, I should tell you that I bought Marc Alan Edelheit’s entire back catalog in both eBook and audiobook. I love the story, and the universe and the rest are just details.
Seriously, the author definitely raised the bar for military fantasy genre authors everywhere. Even with the flaws of this novel, it was still leaps and bounds above most of what’s out there! I was hooked from the first page because they wove the action in such a compelling way that you wanted to jump into the page and join the party. Some of that was because I’m already a huge nerd when it comes to all things historical, but if you’ve been following me, you already know that. Basically, the author had me hooked from the beginning and kept it going throughout the whole novel. This is a book I would happily recommend, and an author I will definitely read again. Buy the novel! But hey, it’s easy to spend someone else’s money! I give this novel a 4 out of 5 grenades!
If this book sounds like it’s right up your alley, check it out, you won’t regret it! Well, unless it inspired you to serve the Legion. And you end up enlisting and get assigned to the South with the 85th Imperial Foot. And just when you feel like you’re safe under the massive walls of Vrell, Captain Stiger orders you to attack the rebels who outnumber you twenty to one. Then you’re put on the front-line unit, getting to be on the tip of the spear. Except, you find out that the enemy isn’t the feckless rebels but are hardened orc warriors. Then, in your first battle, you realize that the supply officer was on the take and your weapons fall apart after the first time you slam it into the enemy’s soft underbelly. And then the other shoe drops, you figure out that the paladin fell asleep, and won’t be there when the dragons arrive. Well yeah, I guess this could be bad for you. Or maybe you’ll be okay? I mean, you could be the first legionnaire to make it out alive? You could live long enough to earn your pension! On second thought, be warned, fanboy/fangirl syndrome just MIGHT kill you. Be wary, you were warned and if you have to go out like that at least enjoy the view from the end times!
Until next time, stay frosty and don’t forget to keep your powder dry!
–> As usual, all images came from the Google’s “labeled for reuse” section or are videos used by JR Handley for use under the Fair Use Doctrine.