I love finding great things in unexpected places.
Vindolanda is the first in a series of historical fiction novels about the Roman Empire in Britain circa 98 CE.
I found this novel when searching for books about the Celtic goddess Brigantia. Not exactly related, but what I found was a compelling fictional story that had the detailed approach of a history book.
Adrian Goldsworthy has plenty of academic research on the Roman military to his name, and his expertise on this topic is clear from the outset of the novel. The world of Vindolanda is rich with both historical context and narrative flare.
The plot started at a snail’s pace, but I was too interested in the subject matter to stop listening (Audible version).
The main character, Ferox, is first introduced through the eyes of a lowly soldier. Ferox is the Centurion posted at Syracuse (a fictional Roman outpost in northern Britannia) who frequently binge drinks himself into days-long stupors. I was surprised, to say the least, when he turned out to be the main, and best character.
As the Roman legions in Britannia navigate the uncertain times of Emperor Trajan’s ascension and severe resistance in the north, Ferox becomes quite a fascinating character, and I loved learning about this world through his eyes. He is of the Silures tribe, a people conquered by the Romans, but he owes his life and his station to the Roman military. Still, his native British background make him a perplexing figure for the true Roman nobles he has to answer to — those who come to Britannia out of duty or for an opportunity to vault into greener pastures. For Ferox, Britannia is home.
Other characters like Vindex the Brigantian scout, Crispinus the Roman tribune, or Ganascus the German warrior quickly became familiar companions with distinct voices. Sulpicia Lepidina also has some great dialogue with Ferox.
The dialogue in general was fantastic — never too coy to obscure deeper meaning, but always weighted enough to keep the reader guessing where the scene was going from line to line.
The use of Latin phrases were totally lost on me, but these weren’t prevalent or out of place.
Overall, Vindolanda was a great story and an even more pleasing one to find considering I didn’t know it existed two months ago. There are currently two more novels in this series, and I’ve already added the second one to my Audible library.
One final note. Peter Noble’s gruff vocal narration was perfect for the setting, and his talent for both accents and tones gave extra life to the characters. His female voices were a little too breathy and on-the-nose for my taste, but that really didn’t detract from the listening experience.
I can’t wait to start book two.