The Borderlands series
Book I: Shadow of the Eagle
SPRING, 831 ab urbe condita, from the founding of the City, in the ninth year of the Emperor Vespasian
"All right, you lazy worms, take those jumps again, this time bareback. An officer who can't stay on his horse in an emergency doesn't belong in the army! Anyone who hasn't fallen off, line up for pilum practice afterward, and then we'll have a nice march down to the harbor. You've got six months for me to turn you into Centuriate material."
Faustus took his horse over the last jump and arrived still mounted, unlike a number of his fellows. If there was one thing to be grateful to the farm for, it was that he could ride practically anything. And any exercise, even a twenty-mile march along the Tiber to Ostia harbor and back, was better than a life spent trying to be the brother who had died young, the one who should have inherited the farm, the one who had wanted it. Instead Faustus now served a great Empire to which everyone from the seal people of the northern islands to the little djinns of the eastern desert paid fealty. Or so he was told daily during training by Mucius, a muscular centurion who looked as if he had personally conquered all of it, though he had perhaps exaggerated a bit about the northern islands, now the goal of Governor Agricola's campaign.
There was only one small fly in his wine cup. On his first night in the training barracks in Rome, Faustus had been too exhausted to move, thanks to Mucius, and too excited to sleep. The combination induced a dreamlike haze in which he imagined what his father would have had to say about it all and, possibly as a result, saw his father standing at the foot of his bed. He was dressed in a toga, one arm slightly raised, the image of the paterfamilias. His form was transparent, like the first wash of a painting with details to come later, but his voice was clear.
"You have disgraced us."
Faustus lay perfectly still and whispered, "Go away."
"Two hundred years, Faustus. Two hundred years that farm has been in our family, and you have sold it to an upstart with no breeding to go and play soldier." The buyer had been a freedman looking to come up in the world. Despite his wife's status, Silvius Valerianus didn't approve of other people changing their station in life.
Faustus sat up, now more irritated than afraid and pretty sure the apparition was imaginary. "That's what Silvia said. Go haunt her." Paullus, asleep on a pallet at the foot of his cot, was snoring lightly and seemed oblivious.
"I shall never find rest," his father said dolefully, "because of you." He faded into a wisp of mist and then disappeared entirely.
In the morning Faustus was not entirely sure what he had seen, and Paullus gave no indication of having heard anything. On the other hand, Paullus was bound to feel that it was no part of his duties to talk to ghosts, particularly not the old master.
Book II: Empire's Edge
EARLY SUMMER, 838 ab urbe condita, from the founding of the City, in the fourth year of the Emperor Domitian
The men from Hibernia were a bright ring around Tuathal where he sat in the great chair by the hearth. And where had that chair come from, Faustus wondered. It was just enough like a throne to make a statement.
Cassan, the youngest of the three, wore enough gold to sink a small boat and a woolen cloak of bright red and green like a parrot. His pale hair fell over his shoulders as he leaned forward. Fiachra was older, no less showily dressed, with a formidable dark mustache and bright blue cloak over a scarlet shirt. Finmall was brown-haired and lanky, with a lazy way of moving that made Faustus think of Galerius, in Isca Silurum with the Second Legion Augusta where theoretically Faustus should be also. The assignment to help Tuathal Techtmar train his motley war band to retake his father's throne in Hibernia was strictly unofficial.
Finmall was doing the talking. All three of them spoke British with a soft overlay of the tongue of the island they called Inis Fáil and the Romans Hibernia. "Eochaid Ainchenn of Laigin will come to your banner when you land."
"What surety of that?" Tuathal asked. He was tall and lankier than Finmall now, some seven years since Faustus had first met him as a boy of fourteen with his father's sword and a singleminded purpose. His dark hair was bound with a gold fillet, and he sat at ease in the great carved chair, his boots to the fire. It was summer but the coastal villages of the Epidii were chill at night when a sea mist rolled over them like a cold blanket.
"His word, and because Laigin is in your path to Elim mac Conrach and Eochaid does not find Elim mac Conrach worth Laigin's blood," Finmall said. "Not anymore."
Tuathal nodded. He and Faustus were both inclined to take Finmall's assessment as truth. Finmall and Cassan and Fiachra had been Fíachu Finnolach's men before Elim Mac Conrach of Ulaid had usurped the throne by murder, which as far as Faustus could tell seemed to be the way that the high kingship generally changed hands. It was at any rate the way that Tuathal's father Fíachu had acquired it from the king of Ulaid who had succeeded Tuathal's grandfather. The lesser kings of Ulaid, Laigin, Connacht, and An Mhumhain were bound to the High King only so long as he could hold the throne, and clan ties counted for more than political ones. Fiachra, Cassan and Finmall, lordless after Elim's victory, had attached themselves instead to the merchants who traded across the water to Britain and Gaul and whose caravans were tempting targets, supplemented by raids on those who declined their services. They had had twenty-one years to go where the merchants went, which was everywhere, and to listen.
"Shadow of the Eagle is a tour-de-force of Roman adventure. Telling the story of the pivotal years of the Roman conquest of Britain from a number of viewpoints, including that of the natives facing the Roman legions, it follows recorded history closely, tying a very realistic narrative to a world of legend and mystery. Blood, steel, honour, and a deep and gripping tale of the Roman army on the frontier of the empire. Hunter has created an instant classic."
– S. J. A. Turney
"Warlike, woad-daubed tribesmen from the northern wilderness. Disciplined legionaries determined to extend the rule of Imperial Rome into Caledonia. A newly minted centurion who is plagued by the ghost of his disappointed father. A wilful Roman girl following the invincible cohorts... Shadow of the Eagle, a very fine novel about Agricola's campaign in the Highlands in AD83, has all the ingredients for a first-class, page-turning, well-researched and written Roman historical adventure – plus faeries.
Or at least a plausible explanation for our age-old belief in faeries and other hidden folk – who, according to the author, were pre-Celtic occupants of the British Isles, small, dark, blue-eyed people, who lived in barrows and under hills and were expert at concealing themselves from the various waves of invaders to these green shores. I loved this inclusion of the Old People in the story, which lifted the novel far above the usual run of humdrum Roman fiction. We also got selkies, star-gazing druids, sea monsters and other charming mystical elements. And these all worked brilliantly and, more importantly, believably, to enhance this tale. The Roman hero Faustus finds kinship with these shy Old People while prosecuting a brutal war for his Imperial masters. There is a bit of love to be enjoyed along the way, a nice, bloody battle or two, some excellent dialogue and fine, delicate characterisation. Highly recommended!"
– Angus Donald
"Enthralling and authentic historical roman fiction, that brings the period alive and keeps you turning the page."
– Alex Gough
"I only need one word to describe this stunning novel: masterful."
– Anthony Riches
"A haunting, historical epic."
– Gordon Doherty
"Amanda Cockrell has the finest sense of history, character, and narrative I've seen since Rosemary Sutcliff."
– Delia Sherman