James Rollins blew me away with his thrillers that pull together science and history to create compelling and smart thrillers that have more substance than most of their peers. When I first saw “Field of Mars: Volume 1,” I thought I would give the book a try and hope that he could bring that same sense of adventure to historical fiction.
Marcus Lucinius Crassus had everything that any man could want. Any man but him, that is, for Crassus forever lusted for more. Whether it be gold or power or women, he was always looking for his next great conquest and was never satisfied with the status quo. In order to increase his fame and wealth, Crassus recruited a historian to travel with him and his army of 40,000 Roman legionaries into the heart of the Parthian Empire to defeat the weaker opponent and return the wealth of the subjugated empire back to Rome.
History cannot be forced and Crassus’ attempt to write himself into history as a hero takes a turn to defeat as the Parthian army conquers his army in spite of being severely outnumbered. Crassus will go down in history but as a goat rather than a hero. How did his army fail to conquer a vastly inferior force? This is one of history’s mysteries that can only be revealed on the Field of Mars.
Since my past experience with Rollins was a smart thriller, I expected much of the same from “Field of Mars” and I was not disappointed. Rollins puts together a strong historical novel that transports the reader back to ancient Rome and into the legion of Crassus’ army. The detail of the story makes it seem real and Rollins pulls no punches in describing the society and the culture of the Roman army. The story has an almost grimy feel in the army camp and the actions of the characters are often crude but always realistic. It is easy for the reader to be immersed in the story and feel like a participant rather than an observer. When Crassus lures the historian to accompany him and his troops, it feels as if he is recruiting the reader to come along as well.
Even though the historical part of “Field of Mars” is substantial and believable, Rollins still manages to keep the story rolling along with plenty of action and intrigue. One of the problems I often find with historical fiction is that the story can take a back seat to the history but Rollins does not allow this to happen. The story is based in history but Rollins mastery of the thriller is apparent in the story as there is never a dull moment and the story moves along at a fast pace. Rollins manages to delve into one of history’s unsolved mysteries but he keeps it fresh throughout and never allows the pacing to bog down. Fans of historical fiction and military fiction are sure to enjoy this book the most as it is firmly planted in those genres but the simple fact is that this is a very strong story that can be enjoyed by everyone. Rollins is quickly becoming one of my favorite thriller writers and “Field of Mars” is a strong testament to his talent. Readers should not let the setting or subject matter of the book deter them from diving in. This is a strong first installment of the serial novel and I am looking forward to reading the rest of the story.
I would like to thank Momentum Books and NetGalley for this review copy. “Field of Mars: Episode 1” is available now.