The Encircling Sea is the second book in Adrian Goldsworthy’s historical fiction epic about the Roman presence in Northern Britannia.
I listened to the first book in the series, Vindolanda, on Audible last month, and it was not a difficult decision for me to jump right into the second.
The Encircling Sea is an excellent sequel that establishes its own narrative while clearly connecting its characters and its plot lines to the first story.
This story builds on the groundwork laid in Vindolanda by referencing events in the first book without rehashing them. The Encircling Sea begins about two years after the events of the first book, and Goldsworthy spends a minimal amount of time catching the reader up on all that has happened in the intervening period. He also deftly weaves “cliffnotes”-style exposition into the narrative without making it feel like an info-dump.
However, I think readers should definitely read Vindolanda book first. Several familiar characters reappear in the sequel, but the plot is much faster-paced, so there is little time to re-establish the relationships between the existing characters. Ferox’s interactions with narrative stalwarts like Vindex, Crispinus, and Sulpicia come with some detail about their shared histories, but I do not think these are enough to carry the emotional weight of the story on their own.
Perhaps they’re not intended to. Unlike the first book, Encircling Sea jumps right into a more linear narrative. This makes it feel a little lighter on world-building compared to its predecessor, but the settings and tones of the first book were reinforced here, if not covered in as much depth.
Still, the story is exciting and introduces new historical themes, beginning with a hauntingly sinister band of unknown warriors raiding the far northern coast and sowing both discontent and fear among the tribes there.
It seems easy to guess where the story is headed when Ferox first hears rumors of these warriors, but there are plenty of twists and intriguing reveals along the way.
Goldsworthy also brilliantly introduces new characters and themes, such as the deserted boy who becomes Ferox’s ward, the mysterious Hibernian queen, and the rumored warrior witch who inhabits a lonely island.
Through it all, Ferox retains his status as a gruff but trustworthy protagonist. The first book vaulted him into my top ten or so favorite POV characters, and the sequel only cements his intelligence and his off-kilter charm.
Peter Noble’s narration is fantastic as always. I can never resist a Irish accent, and he treats the Hibernian characters well in that regard. It’s interesting to note that he dug a bit deeper for the northern accent, particularly with Vindex’s dialogue.
Overall, this series is really sticking out to me. I will surely listen to the third book in the coming months, and I’m already hoping for more to come from Goldsworthy. At the very least, I’ll be on the lookout for other books of this style.
Stay tuned for my next review, and check out my Goodreads profile to follow my reading list. I’m jumping back into The Wheel of Time series with book nine: Winter’s Heart.