If you do not know by now, I am always interested in history. In 2016, I took a large number of classes: writing, business, and of course, history. At DragonCon, I met Marc Edelheit and spoke with him briefly about his work of military fantasy, namely his Stiger’s Tigers book. It had two things I enjoyed: Roman legions and fantasy.
Now, once again, I will be quite honest – as if I was not always brutally honest – and say that I am not a big fan of fantasy literature. Now that said, let’s go to the book.
The book begins with Ben Stiger, an officer in the Imperial Legions, note: not Roman Legions, we are in a fantasy world. There is a rising in the southern provinces. From there, Stiger will be sent on a mission to relieve a perceived siege of a distant fort.
Okay, the basics work and they got me interested in reading more. I won’t spoil the novel (even though there is not much to spoil, keep reading to find out why)
The author knows a lot about Roman Legionnaire training, tactics, organization, daily life, and supply network. The writing about camp life particularly was a high point.
I enjoyed the battle scenes, which provided a fairly chaotic view of what is happening with Stiger not fully knowing what is happening as his men move in complex maneuvers. Well described and executed.
I will start with my biggest issue with this book: the characters. Ben Stiger is the perfect human: he does not make mistakes, he is better than ALL other people he meets, he knows better than everyone, everyone who hates him ends up loving him after spending time with him, even when he may be doing something wrong things turn out better than he expect. At first, this is funny, but it gets repetitive and eventually turned me off and I just wanted to see Superman get himself killed.
The man has no attachment: his family hates him (we are not told why), he has no love or woman (one is hinted at but again we are not told much), and he has no relations other than his elf buddy. This guy is all about his work. He has no interest in anything that is not related to his job. Again, Superman.
The other characters are also very two dimensional, though a little less so. His elf buddy is just like him, with a side of super-Legolas. He is a ninja-of –the-wild who disappears when in the forest, not unlike the elves from Records of the Lodoss War and those guys he trains become just like him.
Another element that put me off was the fantasy elements. Initially, I could get over it, but the more I read, the less interesting they were. It felt like I was reading someone’s D&D game, complete with character classes.
Two elements I will put into an “annoying” category because they annoyed me, but other readers may not find those annoying.
The first is the use of modern, “Americanized” names for the characters: Ben Stiger, Randall, Arnold, etc. I am so used to Roman names in legion that it took a while to get used to it. Eventually, I got used it, but early on, I found that annoying.
Another element that annoyed me was the use of US Army ranks instead of roman ones. Ben Stiger is a Captain and he has his elf lieutenant, has sergeants who name corporals… This one never grew on me. I understand he may have done this to avoid going into too many details about the organization of the legion. This would have added a lot of flavor and kept up the illusion.
I am stuck with having to give this book a score. The good is good, the bad is bad.
For the characters: 1 out of 5. They are weak, cookie-cutter and without any reason to like (or dislike them) really.
For the military aspect: 4 out of 5. I have to take one point off for the use of US ranks.
For the plot. This one is difficult to score exactly. The plot is not overly exciting, but it works as an intro to a series then again, I hate series. The main plot works, but again, you have to deal with Superman for who everything goes right after some minor (and I insist on minor) reverses.
So what do I give this book for its plot? I will go with 3 out of 5, thus rating it “Okay” but not good and not bad.
Overall, I will go with 2 out of 5 as my total score. The elements I hated clearly outweigh those I disliked. Too many uncompleted threads and unlikeable characters.
Which leads me to the question I always ask myself when I review one such book. Do I want to read more of this? And that one is easy to answer. NO. This first book was not interesting enough to keep me reading some more. I do not care what happens to him, his unit, his lieutenants, the Empire, the rebels, or whoever there is in that series. That they die, live, become emperor, turn into ducks or break into a line dance party, I just do not care.