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    RANKS OF BRONZE by David Drake

    BAEN, 1986

    Intent on duplicating the martial feats of his partners in the Roman first triumverate, Crassus led his armies into disaster in the east with entire legions lost to Rome--but not to the greater universe. An extra-terestrial civilization with requirements for iron-age armies buys an entire legion, using them to settle trade disputes where high-tech weaponry is forbidden. Gaius Vibulenus, a young tribune, experienced only defeat under Crassus. Now, however, the Roman legions march to victory after victory. Yet each victory is hollow. The return to Rome seems impossible.

    The concept of an earthly army moved into an extra-earthly universe is a popular and successful one and author David Drake (see reviews of other novels by this author) provides a workmanly example. Tracking the progress of the young Vibulenus personalizes the story, providing more interest than could be generated by a strictly military account. Still, a large part of the interest does come from Drake's descriptions of the tactics and weaponry of the Roman legion from the classic period. Drake appears to have done his homework and the novel rings true.

    Unlike most novels of humans in a strange land, RANKS OF BRONZE does not set its characters on a single world. Each battle is in a new world and the result of each battle is merely survival and the opportunity to fight again. The sameness and frustration that this creates in the characters is, unfortunately, also created within the reader. The lack of a compelling character goal through most of the book prevents this novel from involving the reader fully.

    Two Stars

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