The title says it all, really. Two weeks in, and it’s safe to say I can’t really avoid the subject any more.
In my last two posts, I’ve alluded to a few vague facts about the novel, none of which give you any real feel or ‘hook’ into the story. If I’m going to keep y’all interested in the months leading up to publication, I imagine that’s something that will have to change.
I’m also doing this post today and not any later as tomorrow I’m having my second COVID vaccination, and the last one wiped me out for a couple of days, so I’d rather get some content out there now in case that happens again.
So, without further adieu, here we go…
The novel’s title is Legion That Was, which you know from… pretty much everywhere. It’s all over this site and my socials. I picked it fairly early on (which isn’t something I always do, to be honest – on other projects I’ve got quite far in before landing on a title).
At the time, there was no real meaning behind it. I just thought it sounded cool, and given how I knew the novel was going to heavily feature the Roman army, and more specifically the Legions, I stuck with it.
And towards the novel’s end, someone actually says the title out loud, in the stirring conclusion to an equally stirring speech. So there. 😉
I’ve picked out the titles for Books II and III, and I’m hoping that going forward they’ll all continue to derive from this one.
The novel is set in Ancient Rome (in many different parts of Ancient Rome, and the surrounding area, to be precise) in AD 12.
Rome is an interesting place in these years. Over the last few decades, it’s been strife city. Coming under pressure from a host of successive and dangerous egos, most notably Julius Caesar, the increasingly flawed, increasingly fallible Roman Republic (or not, depending on who you believe) finally collapsed into a spinning, crashing dumpster fire known as the Civil Wars.
They raged for years, seeing a host of titans of Roman society rising and falling – Crassus, Pompey the Great, good ol’ Caesar himself, Cicero, Mark Antony, Lepidus – until finally, when the dust settled after the Battle of Actium in 31 BC, only one of those blood-soaked men was left standing… Caesar’s adopted son, Gaius Octavius, known to history (to save confusion with his many similarly-named ancestors) as Octavian.
The now-unchallenged Octavian consolidated his power in Rome, and in what was probably the slickest PR campaign in human history, rebranded himself as Caesar Augustus, the pater patriae (‘father of the nation’) and first Emperor of Rome.
A Republic that had stood for over five hundred years became an Empire – a ‘Principate’ – that answered to one man. A city and people that, only years before, would have spat upon the idea of tyranny now paid homage to a ruler whose power came through an army, not a ballot-box. A six-hundred strong Senate filled with Rome’s noblest families was reduced to a gentlemen’s club, who could do little but nod and gasp approvingly at whatever Augustus decided was going down that day.
That was life. The top man in Rome could have you raised, praised or erased while sitting in his evening bath, and those whims were where all power in this new Empire flowed from.
An entire generation of Romans grew up in Augustus’ era, people who’d never known what the Republic really was. They’d never tasted what life was like without an Emperor – indeed, what life was like without this Emperor. All they knew was glorious Imperial rule.
But there were people who remembered. A dwindling minority, who knew better than to challenge the new order. But they were still there. They still remembered.
This is the Rome my novel is set in. A bustling, seething heart of Empire, full of dynamism and (state-sponsored) anticipation at the dawn of a new era. But at the same time, remnants of that time gone by still remain. Swept out of sight, perhaps, and submerged beneath the rubble of another age. But still there. And still felt.
So now you know about the world they’re going to trample over. I guess it’s now time to flesh out a few of the people who will do said trampling.
As I mentioned above, the novel is set in the Roman Legions – more specifically, in the Twelfth Legion, known as the ‘Fulminata’ (loosely translated as ‘Thunderbolts’). The protagonist, and several of the other main characters, are officers and soldiers in this Legion, men who’ve advanced through the ranks, battled together for long periods in some cases, and have forged strong bonds of brotherhood with one another.
Not necessarily friendship, mind. But brotherhood. Fighting together in war after gruelling war will do that to you.
And as well as them, there are the hangers-on – those characters whose jobs it is to help, support or even bless those fighting men in Red. They all have equally important parts to play, and in some cases their voices and perspectives shed an even cooler light on the whole thing.
How this lot all interact with each other – and how the Legion generally interacts with the people and settings around it – I hope is going to make some fairly interesting reading.
I use inverted commas there, because as I’m sure you’ll all come to see, Gaius Sertor Orbus is far from the most heroic of on-page protagonists. But then, for me that is partly the allure. I like my leading men a little rough around the edges.
Orbus, like many of the other characters in the novel, is an officer in the Twelfth Legion. He holds the rank of Praefectus Castrorum – a Camp Prefect (a ‘Praefector’, as dubbed by his men), which is a pretty senior position to hold – he is third in command of the Legion, when the Legate and most senior Tribune aren’t around, and is essentially responsible for the day-to-day running of the Camp and the legionaries’ training and combat readiness.
That seniority has a double edge though, and a slightly bitter aftertaste. Orbus is a plebeian, from the bottommost tier of Roman society. Unlike many of the fellow officers and soldiers he shares his life with, he isn’t a patrician (a man from Rome’s aristocratic elite, who could enter the Senate) or even an equestrian (a member of the antiquated order of knights, who enjoyed status beyond a plebeian but less than a patrician). As a consequence, he cannot rise any higher than his current rank in the Roman army, or indeed in any institution back in Rome. In essence, Orbus earnt his officer’s crest the hard way. He scraped through the ranks of the Legion on merit, rather than any pedigree or fortune paving his way.
To even hold the Prefect rank requires a full-term of service in the military – twenty five years. Which, in the Ancient world, where life expectancy is a shadow of what it is now, is a lonnnnng portion of your life to give up, in the hope that you’ll make it as an officer.
At the start of the novel Orbus is in his early forties, and while he enjoys a modicum of privilege and respect from his men, that respect only runs skin deep. The mainstay of his job is to marshal men and officers, many of whom are in fact his social superiors, and who are inevitably going to ‘outgrow’ him and go off to do better, grander things, either in the Legions or in Rome itself.
That knowledge – seeing your charges fly the nest and grab hold of opportunities that are never going to come your way – can really chafe at a man. I think, in all honesty, a little bit of my own frustration over the last year fed into that writing; shielding and chronic pain can be real buggers, especially when so many other people my age were able to have a (relatively) normal summer last year without me.
But yes, that was something I wanted to come across in Orbus’ character from the get-go. That sense, right from before the story even began, that he felt his glory days were already behind him.
I feel in this time of COVID that’s a little something we can all partly relate to.
But then it doesn’t matter, because Orbus is about to go in some far more interesting directions. In the Prologue of the novel, he makes a mistake. A big mistake.
A career-ending mistake.
How intentional it really is, the reader can decide – but suffice to say, in the face of that life-defining moment, he loses everything. His rank, his place in the Legion (this Legion, let’s not forget, that he’s spent his whole existence as a part of. This Legion that is in a sense, his entire freaking life). All of it. Gone.
In the wake of that, Orbus is propelled on a maudlin, yet surprising, journey of self-discovery. Along the way, he will forge new alliances, encounter old enemies, and draw together an unlikely, yet resolute, rabble of comrades.
And that, boys and girls, is Legion That Was.