I discovered Harry Sidebottom a couple of years ago after the first three Warrior of Rome novels had been published, so came to him late. But, as is usual with some books that you stumble upon unexpectedly I was impressed and quickly took to Ballista the central character and his familia.
I have to say, to begin with, The Caspian Gates was a bit of a disappointment. It wasn't just the irritating insertion of hyphens in names and words where previously there was none, e.g. Hippothous became Hipp-othous and then back to Hippothous. Vinegar became Vin-egar, these are just a couple of examples and I don't know if that was down to poor proof reading or in translation to Kindle format but irritating it was.
But it was the story telling itself that I found well below the standard of the first three novels. Dr Sidebottom, to give him his proper title, is a Fellow and Director of Studies in Ancient History at St Benets Hall, and Lecturer in Ancient History at Lincoln College, Oxford. And he clearly approached the first three novels with these lofty credentials using his immense knowledge to draw out the characters and the descriptions of the various parts of the Roman Empire where Ballista was fighting, but while drawing on his immense knowledge his lecturing and teaching credentials were tucked away and hidden from sight writing the novels as an author intent on bringing to the reader a collection of stories full of reality. The hierarchy and inner workings of the Senate and the Empire, Roman fighting tactics, humour (great humour), and loyalty. All of this interspersed with homilies and nods to the great writers and philosophers of the day a great combination, well written and gripping, keeping the pace at a level that made it difficult to put these books down.
So, Harry Sidebottom clearly set out, as an author who wanted to give his readers a gripping tale and he succeeded, but, in No 4 I think he forgot to take of the College Dons robe and began to write this one as a lecturer, as Dr Sidebottom, and therein lies the problem. If you read any great or even good novel the writer writes in a way that is engaging to the reader. The characters have a dialogue with each other and the central character has a dialogue with the reader, much the same way as Michael Caine has with the watcher in Alfie however in the first 6 chapters of The Caspian Gate the dialogue is as sparse as pimples on a new born baby's bum. A novel with characters telling a story should be dialogue heavy it should be like a teenagers acne riddled face, you can't see the features for the plooks and spots and we shouldn't be able to see the page for the interaction between the characters. In this book so far, I am really struggling not to just close it down on my Kindle and move on to something else.
I have just read Julian Stockwin's latest offering, Conquest, and Michael R Hicks's latest from the In Her Name series, Dead Soul. Both are writing about a central character and both have written a number of books in the series and as always the characters engaged the readers and their books were gripping and I resented having to go to work, or go to bed, in fact to do anything that we should be doing in our daily lives, that would take me away from these books, and that is how I felt about Harry Sidebottom and the first 3 books in the Warrior of Rome series.
I've never done this before, not that I have done many reviews, but, I just felt that I had to come and do an early review of this one as I do feel let down by it. I will not stop reading it and I will come back to this review after I am done, when hopefully I will be able to update it with a much more positive review.