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Island Of Ghosts (1999)

Island of Ghosts (1999)

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4.14 of 5 Votes: 1
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0812545141 (ISBN13: 9780812545142)
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About book Island Of Ghosts (1999)

Gillian Bradshaw's Island of Ghosts is a complex and entertaining tale, set in Roman Britain during the reign of Emperor Marcus Aurelius. The narrative thread of the novel is played out against the story of the Sarmatian auxiliary forces taken into the Roman army and posted to Britain after the Empire's victory over the their people. Little is known of the fate of the Sarmatians - a nomadic people, known as formidable mounted fighters, who had migrated from Central Asia into Eastern Europe - once they arrived in Britain, but Bradshaw has taken what is known about them, and about the much better documented history of the Roman occupation of Britain, and created a story of romance and political intrigue.Bradshaw paints a picture of colonial Britain that puts considerable emphasis on the diversity of cultures, and the issues of cultural clashes beyween them - the imperial military culture of the conquering Romans, the unassimilated Sarmatian warriors, the varied British tribes and their different histories with the Empire, the Christian underground, the hidden remnants of the druidic order - as well as on the different political factions within these groups.Navigating these complexities is Ariantes, the commander of one of the first three Sarmatian dragons (a unit of 500 soldiers) to arrive in Britain. Weary of wars fought for glory, emotionally devastated by the death of his wife and children during the wars with Rome, determined to take care of his men and honour his vow to serve the Empire, Ariantes is caught between Romans who distrust the "barbarians" they assume the Sarmatians to be, Britons who hope for freedom and a return to the old ways, and his fellow Sarmatians who are unwilling to make the changes necessary to live in the new land they have come to. A well-researched and thoroughly engaging historical novel.

Capitulated troops from the steppe in the east are sent to Britain to guard another frontier. At home they are declared dead, their wives widows, and they don’t believe in an island across the ocean, unless ghosts inhabit it.So starts this story of cultural intersection. The captain Ariantes needs to learn Roman ways to look after the welfare of his troops – the only concern left to him now – but this is to Romanize, which he has no wish to do. The book is first person Ariantes and he came alive for me at once. He’s an extremely sympathetic character. It’s a gently-told story. The Sarmatians’ old scalp collections are a great talking-point for the Romans, but Ariantes is weary of war, and though he’s matter-of-fact and unapologetic about scalps of the past he’s not here to take more. The first thing I noticed is what humanity she gives to Sarmatians – and then to unexpected Romans too. I’m such a believer that human decency was alive and well in the second century (not invented in the twentieth) that I can’t believe the complaint I’m about to make. As we went on I found the novel a little too gentle, too easily solved. People came around too soon. Not that it’s happy-happy – he knows his Sarmatians won’t be Sarmatians in a few years’ time, so we have that melancholy tinge.

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A happy discovery: more on Roman Britain, which is a topic I find irresistible. Here, a Sarmatian scepter-holder (e.g. high noble of the Sarmatian nation, linked to the Persian and Afghan peoples of a few hundred years after Alexander the Great's time) has to lead his horse troops (with cataphract armor! Cool!) across the Danube and Europe to an island none of his cavalry even believe exist, as part of a treaty settlement with the emperor Marcus Aurelius. Rich in details of Hadrian's Wall, fort settlements, Eburacum (York), different British tribes (the Brigantii, the Corotani, etc.) I enjoyed all of it; well worth reading, especially for the clash of cultures and religions.

Competently written, if a bit straightforward and predictable: the plot moves quickly and kept my attention, but there's never really any doubt about the villain or the outcome. The main character, Ariantes, is likable, but he has a dispassionate, matter-of-fact voice and comes off as rather distant. But there are some generally moving moments; I particularly liked the way (view spoiler)[Ariantes' friendship with Facilis developed (hide spoiler)]
—Amanda McCrina

Let me get one thing straight, first, 'cause it bugged me--from the Historical Epilogue. "Ben Hur" probably didn't care about the historical accuracy of galley slaves on a Roman ship. The book/movie "got it wrong" for the same reason GB displaced the Thundering Victory battle--to make a good story!Ye scholars and well-studied attend to this: fiction is not about how smart you are. It's about a good story! The best transform something inside the reader.Anyway, that said, this was a fine and entertaining read. I loved the characters and I loved reading it. The story lost momentum and grandeur when the intrigue started. It didn't seem to fit the opening tone of the novel, which was sweeping and full of Sarmatian glory, and seemed resolved too simply and without enough tragedy. But the last two chapters came back, though still with a tad too much happiness.Eh, I'll take a happy book!
—Kristen Smith

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