Review of SNAKESTONE AND SWORD by J. E. Bruce
A CENTURION IN THE LAND OF THE FAE (Book One)
BooksForABuck.com, October 2011
Roman Centurion Arrius Marcus Niger (Arri) of the 9th Legion hadn't planned on dying in Britain. Lying in a cold bog, abandoned by his officers, and surrounded by dead cohorts. Unfortunately, that's exactly where he is--dying but not dead. Around the dismal battlefield British barbarians and other beings with their own plans roam about, killing...and worse. Dying had its own sort of honor--and Arri isn't sure he wants to survive the loss of all of his friends. The beings who find him don't give him that choice.
Arri isn't interested in serving as a slave, but the Tuatha de Danann who "rescue" him need him and are prepared to do whatever it takes to get his help--willing or not. In order to win a ten-thousand year-old war, the Tuatha find they're in desperate need of Roman ingenuity and believe that Arri is the man to deliver. According to them, Arri's intense memories of his now-dead fellow soldiers may be essential in saving human-kind from extinction.
Arri doesn't have a problem with saving humanity (well, he's not entirely sure about barbarians). Unfortunately, it doesn't take him long to discover that his rescuers are (a) only marginally human themselves; (b) pathological liars; and (c) so self-absorbed that it isn't completely clear that they'd care whether humanity vanishes as long as they can continue their own parties. Arri struggles to find his place in this alien land, and fights to keep his mind clear in a world where the Tuatha can simply reach into his brain and transform his emotions. Reluctantly, finds himself taking on leadership of an army of humans--Kellsuf, "men of the void," as the Tuatha call them--but he's still not sure he wants to fight a war the Tuatha have deliberately brought upon themselves.
Author J. E. Bruce (see more BooksForABuck.com reviews of speculative fiction by Bruce) launches an important fantasy series with SNAKESTONE AND SWORD, the first volume in A CENTURION IN THE LAND OF THE FAE. Arri is a damaged but engaging protagonist forced to choose when all of the choices are bad, living in a world where all of the rules are turned upside down. Bruce's background as a forensic archaeologist lets her bring the Early Roman Empire period to life, and the Fae settings are equally well researched and real. Mixing action with thoughtful insight, SNAKESTONE AND SWORD is an exciting read.
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