This week saw the launch of the highly anticipated The Eagle of the Twelfth by M.C Scott.
This is an exceptional book, and apparently I’m known for being light and fluffy about good books (or as I like to think positive),
so let me be clear, this will be one of the best books you read this year.
BUY THE BOOK
You can get this book for the bargain price of £7.12, seriously, how can you not buy it for that price?
BUY THE BOOK
There are many Roman era Historical Fiction books and authors on the market now and they explore differing facets of the Roman world and the roman army. What the majority of them have in common is that the culmination, the pièce de résistance of the story is the great battle, the pulling together of all the threads so the hero wins, or survives to fight another day over coming terrible odds. All this is what most of us readers want in a novel, something of great power and motivation, coupled with great story telling and that touch of escapism to take us beyond the borders of our lives into another time and place, to maybe give us a little piece of that heroic feeling.
With Manda Scott’s Eagle of the Twelfth you get all the usual accomplished parts of a roman novel, but then you get something more, something that I always felt I got touches of in Simon Scarrow’s early eagle novels, but In Manda’s to a much greater depth. You get to be the hero, to feel the heroes thoughts, cares concerns, you ride along in his skin rather than as an observer, but you experience it as a real person doing heroic deeds rather than a prefab hero.
Eagle of the Twelfth is not just Manda’s triumph, Demalion of Macedon is her triumph.
For those readers who are expecting a swords and sandals heroic ride with a Scarrow or Riches style swagger, its there, but expect also for the legion to finally be stripped back to its real warts and all self. Because Eagle of the Twelfth gives an expose on just why these men conquered the world, how they were so tough, why they fought so much as a unit and how they used that comradeship, that family of the eagle to survive the cold the heat, the rain the hell of war, Life in the ancient world.
The cover of the book proudly states on a sticker, “as good as Conn Iggulden or your money back”, And I have to say Conn in the case of this book, I think Manda has you beat (well maybe not Wolf of the Plains) but Rome for Rome.
This book captures not just the epic scale of Rome’s legions, but its core, its heart, its soul, its very essence, what made the men tick.
This book is going right up there as one of my best for 2012 Very Highly recommended, not just for those who like Historical fiction, but for those whole love great fiction told by a great story teller.
Throughout the Roman Army, the Twelfth Legion is notorious for its ill fortune. It faces the harshest of postings, the toughest of campaigns, the most vicious of opponents. For one young man, Demalion of Macedon, joining it will be a baptism of fire. And yet, amid all of the violence and savagery of his life as a legionary, he realises he has discovered a vocation – as a soldier and a leader of men. He has come to love the Twelfth and all the bloody-minded, dark-hearted soldiers he calls his brothers.
But all that he cares about is ripped from him when, during the brutal Judaean campaign, the Hebrew army inflict a catastrophic defeat upon the legion – not only decimating their ranks, but taking away their soul – the eagle.
There is one final chance to save the legion’s honour – to steal back the eagle. To do that, Demalion and his legionnaries must go undercover into the city of Jerusalem, into the very heart of their enemy, where discovery will mean the worst of deaths, if they are to recover their pride.
And that, in itself, is a task worthy only of heroes.
Manda has very kindly given some of her time to answer some of my totally inane questions about this book, her other books, writing and other things.
When I was asked to do a Q&A (and stopped panicking about what to ask) I threw what I hoped were some good questions together, what struck me with the responses was just how open and insightful and giving of her time Manda is. Not just to her readers and fans and the reviewers, but to the community of Writers she belongs too. So to Manda one of the true stars of writing..We salute you.
1) So you were a Vet, Ben Kane was a Vet, James Rollins was a Vet…what is it about being a Vet that makes you want to write?
It’s to do with not enjoying the fact that complete strangers have the power to pick up the phone at 4am and tell you to get out of bed…. and that most vets really like animals, and most animals are very, very badly treated, generally out of ignorance, by people who don’t know the difference between projection and reality. And then having reached the ‘I can’t do this any more,’ what else do you do?
Seriously? – I had always planned to be a writer and a vet, it was just that I hadn’t realised the both took up too much time. I spent a long time getting to the point where I felt comfortable enough as a vet to begin writing and then it took another ten years (I was writing TV scripts to begin with) before I realised I was going to give up the day job and become a full time writer.
2)What is your favourite reading & writing genre (given the various books you have written)
Reading: I read anything. I’m hugely eclectic. I read good books, but there are very few of those and they’re spread across the genres, if I limited to one, I’d miss out on the best. I think some of the best work of recent years has been in YA fiction: The Knife of Never Letting Go and its sequels by Patrick Ness are masterpieces, alongside Philip Pullman’s ‘His Dark Materials’ trilogy. But I also am in awe of, and constantly re-read Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ while waiting with bare patience for anything at all by Guy Gavriel Kay and I notice that when I have to write down my top 5 Desert Island books, they’re all historical, and I didn’t intend for that to happen, I just wrote what I wanted most to have with me.
Writing: When I’ve just spent a long time writing history, I want to write something contemporary, and vice versa. I need the break in pace and style of contemporary writing, bur if I were absolutely forced to choose just one (and if the sales were the same), I’d choose historical fiction – but only just.
3)Why the name changes between genres?
It makes them easier to sell. And all the research says that most men won’t knowingly by a book by a woman, particularly in this genre. There are obvious challenges to that: Hilary Mantel manages to sell very well, but in the realm of Roman military fiction, there’s no question but that sales are better when it’s not obvious who I am.
4)What was the driver to write Eagle of the Twelfth?
I grew up with something close to worship of Eagle of the Ninth. It was the first book I re-read obsessively and when my father took us to the see the brochs – the Palaeolithic stone roundhouses in the west Highlands of Scotland, I spent my time there trying to work out how I could make the Seal People appear – or at least, how I could find out what they did when the Romans weren’t there. The entire Boudica series (and the dreaming that led up to it) grew out of trying to answer that question.
When I first proposed the Rome series, the loss and re-finding of the Eagle of the Twelfth was the final section of The Coming of the King. When that book easily outgrew the outline, it became clear that I could write a book *just* about the loss and attempted recovery of the Eagle of the Twelfth… the chance to write something that might march in the footsteps of Eagle of the Ninth… So the driver was a short paragraph in Josephus that describes the battle of Beth Horon and the four hundred men who chose to stay behind with their Eagle standard and let the rest escape, but it took a while for me to understand what was possible.
5)Who was your favourite character?
Demalion of Macedon, without question. He grew from this book and for this book; the youth who never wanted to be a legionary, but is conscripted into the Twelfth, unluckiest legion in the entire Roman Army and grows to discover the secret of the legions: that honour is everything and to die with honour is wonderful thing.
6)Which of your books is your personal Favourite?
That’s hard, because it’s always the last one I’ve just written and the nature of the publishing cycle means I’m two books ahead of the one that’s just come out… but re-reading Eagle now that I have a finished copy on my desk: I love this book. I still love it even though it’s out, which is generally not the case. I loved writing it, I loved editing it (which I usually hate), I truly enjoyed all of it – so if I had to pick a book at this moment, it would genuinely be Eagle of the Twelfth.
7)Can you name your Top 5 books to take to a desert Island?
Hilary Mantel: Wolf Hall (I’ve just bought the sequel, so that may change)
Mary Renault: The Fire from Heaven
Rosemary Sutcliff: A Sword at Sunset
Andrew Taylor: The American Boy
Robert Low: The Lion Wakes
but that leaves out James Fennimore Cooper’s Last of the Mohicans, The Knife of Never Letting Go (Patrick Ness), Dorothy Dunnett’s amazing take on Macbeth, ‘King Hereafter’ and and everything by Alan Garner and Guy Gavriel Kay, which is immensely hard.
8)What is your favourite cover (your books)? (All books)?
The Boudica covers are my favourite of all my books: If I had to choose just one… Probably Dreaming the Bull. I have a tattoo planned of that bull image.
of all books? I think the original Wolf Hall hardback cover was outstanding; sheer class, but probably my favourite cover of all time is the original hardback cover for the Garth Nix book, Sabriel, which was outstanding in its simplicity – loved it.
9) How would you describe your writing style?
If I had only one word, I would say, immersive. My aim as a writer is to create a world that is completely real, in which the reader can become completely lost, a world which feels as real as the world beyond the book, which has touch and taste and scent and sight and hearing and all the gut-felt sensations that draw us into the work. The people should live with you when you put it down, they should haunt your days the way a strong dream haunts you long after waking. So the action has to feel plausible and real; the battles have to be real battles, with real people, not Boys’ Own automatons, or impossible heroes who cleave men’s heads from their necks with a single stroke (while that’s possible, you have to have a particular kind of blade and the space to use it against an opponent who isn’t wearing armour near his neck; it’s not going to happen in your average close-fought battle.). The living and the dying have to matter to you, and feel real and precious.
I’ve just finished ABSOLUTION which is the sequel to NO GOOD DEED, a contemporary crime thriller that I wrote ten years ago. Absolution is the book I was contracted to write when I had a kind of epiphany and wrote the Boudica series instead. It’s been on a rolling boil inside my head ever since and I loved writing it, too – last year was enormously good writing fun, I have to say… So in publishing terms, Rome: The Art of War takes us on after the end of The Eagle of the Twelfth and then there’ll be Absolution. IN writing terms… I’m just staring a book on Joan of Arc as you’ve never known her: the true Joan (who was emphatically not a peasant girl who happened to put on armour and lead the French armies to 3 successive victories). It’ll have a contemporary thread, which means I get to satisfy both halves of my writing life.
11)Tell me about the HWA, what made you set it up and why?
When I first started writing, I wrote contemporary thrillers and was a member of the CWA. As such, I met, and became close friends with, a whole tranche of amazing, creative crime writers. I loved our social events and literary festivals – places where I could sit down and discuss writing with people who truly understood what it was about, where the market was going, what had been done and not done… I learned so much, and it provided amazing support. Coming into Historical writing, I really missed that. I woke up one morning and thought there needed to be a historical equivalent of the CWA – something that would provide professional and social support to writers, and also include agents and publishers. I wrote to a dozen friends, who all said, ‘Yes, why has this not been done before’ and all subsequently wrote to their friends and by the end of the week, we had the HWA. Another week later, we had a committee and six months later, we had a website and a forum and an active community. We hosted our first Kelmarsh 2-day literary festival and this year we’ll have our first Prize, in conjunction with Goldsboro books: the HWA/Goldsboro Prize for Debut Historical Fiction.
12)Coming soon is Kelmarsh (the biggest HWA event of the year) with the HWA authors appearing at the Festival of Living History, how can you sell it to the readers of this blog? Why go?
Where else will you see Rob Low go head to head with Harry Sidebottom with the topic, ‘My Sword’s bigger than your sword!’? Or hear Ben Kane, Tony Riches and Doug Jackson talk about the legions of Rome, followed by a vivid discussion of Montgomery and Rommel, with Georgian Muder and the English Civil War straight after? We have a total of 35 historical writers from the UK and round the world with some of the best known names and some of the names you’ll come to know well in the next few years. We’ll be announcing the Short LIst for the HWA/Goldsboro Prize for Debut Historical Fiction. There’s a massive pavilion with books from all the authors, in the midst of an even more massive showground which is host to re-enactment groups from every era from the Dark Ages through to WWII. There are Knights on Horseback, Vikings, Cavaliers (and Roundheads, /spit) and Romans. And beer. Lots of artisan beer…
13)As a reviewer you let me offer critic and feedback on your hard work, so to even the score and with a view to self improvement. Where would you like to see improvement in my review or reviews in general? And what do you look for in a review (apart from love of the book )
Clever man: that’s a very good question, pair of questions, even…
To answer the easier one first; what I look for in any review isn’t always love of the book, it’s honesty.
In reading other people’s reviews, I’m looking for the basics of:
– a good cover shot,
– summary: a brief outline of what the book is about, including a sense of where it lies in their oeuvre: is it a first novel? The tenth in a series that has steadily been improving? Does it contain characters I might know and if so are they simply rubber stamped copies of the previous books or do they grow, do we come to know them more deeply?
– opinion: Last, I want an honest opinion of how good it is, and whether it did what it set out to do. It’s quite important, as a reader, a writer and a reviewer, to take a good, hard look at what the writer intended – sometimes, at what the writer intended that the editor tried to get rid of – and see if s/he has succeeded. That’s the measure of whether the book has worked. There’s no point in being upset that James Patterson hasn’t written a Hilary Mantel Wolf Hall or that Mantel hasn’t written something as glibly accessible as a Patterson (to take two extremes); they’re trying to do different things and must be judged on whether they’ve succeeded. The honesty comes in saying what we thought they’d aimed for and then whether they hit the mark. If the mark isn’t one we like (I wouldn’t read a James Patterson out of choice, for instance, but was once required to for a radio review), then we can say so. We don’t have to be savage about it – we all know the amount of effort that goes into even the worst of books – but some are just unpublishably bad and once in a while, I’ll crack and say so, particularly if that book has been written by someone who should know better (there’s a review of mine about Robert Harris’s “Fear Index” which is gaining a bit of notoriety and comes into exactly that category: I thought ‘Fatherland’ was excellent and ‘Ghost’ was clever, funny and intelligent – TFI was just dreadful… see here: http://www.goodreads.com/review/show/224362138)
Finally, in deciding whether or not to buy a book based on a review, I look for whether I share the same tastes as the reviewer. In looking at your other reviews, I first Googled Parmenion-books and got to the website rather than the blog and found some interesting things I hadn’t seen before, including a review of Angelology which definitely came into the category of unreadably bad – I think I got about 50 pages in before I gave up – so it was heartening to see that you really didn’t like it, even if you were more polite about it than I might have been.
If I had to find an improvement – and that’s genuinely hard – I’d like a 5* scale to differentiate the excellent from the also-rans, but if it were applied to my own books, I’d probably hate it, so it’s far kinder not to have it and kindness in a reviewer is something every author wants. In reviewing Eagle: you completely understood what I was trying to do with the book which doesn’t always happen and is the single most cheering event of any writers’ life – to have a book understood in its entirety. And you liked what you read, which makes the months of work worthwhile. I couldn’t be happier; no improvement needed.
14) Finally Your latest book sell it to me the reader…why should i read it? what made it special to you and will make it special to me the reader?
This is, without question, the best book I’ve written to date: I’ve gone through a long apprenticeship (for which all thanks to Selina Walker, my former editor, who moved on to Random House, but not before she’d spent a decade teaching me the art and craft of writing). Everything I have ever understood about writing and about Rome is in this book. The characters in this got more deeply under my skin, faster, than any other book I’ve written and finding their strengths and weaknesses, their raw points and their courage was a joy. If you’ve read anything else I’ve written, that ought to be enough. If you haven’t, I’d let Parmenions’ review speak for me:
With Manda Scott’s Eagle of the Twelfth you get all the usual accomplished parts of a Roman novel, but then you get something more, something that I always felt I got touches of in Simon Scarrow’s early eagle novels, but In Manda’s to a much greater depth. You get to be the hero, to feel the heroes thoughts, cares concerns, you ride along in his skin rather than as an observer, but you experience it as a real person doing heroic deeds rather than a prefab hero.
Eagle of the Twelfth is not just Manda’s triumph, Demalion of Macedon is her triumph.
I couldn’t put it better, and wouldn’t try to, except perhaps to paraphrase George RR Martin, ‘A reader lives a thousand lives. Who never reads, lives only one.’ Read this, and I guarantee, you will add to the number of your lives.
BUY THE BOOK (your choice of vendors)
You can get this book for the bargain price of £7.12, seriously, how can you not buy it for that price?
Amazon buy the book
For those that are not aware of the full list of books by M.C Scott / Manda Scott see below
Manda Scott is a veterinary surgeon, writer and climber, not necessarily in that order. Born and educated in Scotland, she trained at the Glasgow Vet School and now lives and works in Suffolk, sharing her life with two lurchers and other assorted wildlife. She is known primarily as a crime writer. Her first novel, Hen’s Teeth, hailed by Fay Weldon as ‘a new voice for a new world’ was shortlisted for the 1997 Orange Prize. Her subsequent novels, Night Mares, Stronger than Death and No Good Deed, for which she was hailed as ‘one of Britain’s most important crime writers’ by The Times, are published by Headline.
The Boudica series are her first historical novels. They are, she says, the books she was born to write.
1. The Emperor’s Spy (2009)
aka The Fire of Rome
2. The Coming of the King (2011)
3. The Eagle Of The Twelfth (2012)
1. Hen’s Teeth (1997)
2. Night Mares (1998)
3. Stronger Than Death (1999)
1 Dreaming the Eagle (2003)
2. Dreaming the Bull (2004)
3. Dreaming the Hound (2005)
4. Dreaming the Serpent Spear (2006)
Stand alone Novels
No Good Deed (2001)
The Crystal Skull (2008)
aka 2012: The Crystal Skull
2012: Everything You Need To Know About The Apocalypse (2011)
Anthologies containing stories by Manda Scott
Scottish Girls About Town: And Sixteen Other Scottish Women Authors (2003)
Orange Prize for Fiction Best Novel nominee (1997) : Hen’s Teeth
Edgar Awards Best Novel nominee (2003) : No Good Deed
Links to author web site