A debut novel set in the Roman Empire and fictionalises the battle between the Romans and the Germans… It sounds epic. It sounds amazing and it sounds bloody. It was definitely bloody.
It is AD 9. In Northern Europe, an army is dying, and an empire is being brought to its knees.
The Roman Empire is at the height of its power. Rome’s soldiers brutally enforce imperial rule, and its legions are the most efficient and aggressive fighting force in the world. Governor Varus leads 15,000 seasoned legionnaires north to subdue the Germanic tribes. To Rome, these people are savages, ripe for conquest. But the Romans know little of this densely forested territory governed by fiercely independent chieftains. Rome’s supposed ally, Arminius, has unified the disgruntled tribes, leading the would-be conquerors towards a deadly trap. As the army marches deeper into enemy territory, one small band of soldiers must face the deadliest of foes, alone.
The first half of this book did nothing to capture my attention at all. I didn’t find myself gripped by the story or the characters, which was a massive shame because the first half of the book had so much potential! I think the characters didn’t grip me because there were just so many of them to keep track of in the beginning and so I kept getting their nicknames all mixed up. Plus, because our protagonist tells the army that he can’t remember anything about his past, I couldn’t really connect with him about anything. He was just… there.
It was a sort of mystery book though because event though Felix tells his comrades that he can’t remember anything, we as the reader knows that he does because he keeps letting out little hints to us about how he remembers certain things. We don’t actually find out about his past until the very end, and even then, it just seemed really far-fetched and confusing. To be honest, the ending itself gave me whiplash. One minute, he decides something, then goes back on it, the changes his mind again and again. Like… seriously? No. At the end though, I was content with his decision but he still really annoyed me. I had grown to like his character but he kind of let me down towards the end.
“At times, I was at peace with my place in the world, feeling not a care for my past, or my future. At other moments, I felt as if a boulder was on my chest, crushing me with the weight of my depression… If not already broken, I would say that my mind was breaking.”
– Geraint Jonest, Blood Forest
The second half of the book is where things really get going. I think I was at about 46%(?) when I started really binge reading because I was so into the story. It’s also around this point where Felix starts to bond with the other troops and starts to care for them and because of this, I felt myself also bonding with the characters (but still not really liking Felix). I mean, come on, how could you not like Chickenhead and his kitten?!
The second half was fast paced, action packed and full of feels. We saw bodies get chopped up, rage fill every single troop in the army and we also witness a stealth mission through a dangerous forest. I loved it. If it wasn’t for the second half, I would have given up completely.
This book is definitely not for the faint-hearted. It is full of vicious killings that are described in graphic detail and there is pretty much every swear word ever known to man in the book so yeah… if you’re not a big fan of those things, you definitely shouldn’t read this book. Otherwise, go for it and jump straight in. Just be weary of the first half because it drags.
Overall, I do recommend this book to anyone who is looking for a gory Roman read. It’s an ok book for a debut and I look forward to reading what Jones comes up with next.
Side note: I know I’ve rated this book 2 stars but my real rating it 2.5
Warning: this book contains triggers for death, suicide and war.
Disclaimer: this book was sent to me by the publisher in exchange for an honest review