Review: GIVE ME BACK MY LEGIONS! by Harry Turtledove

Give Me Back My Legions!Give Me Back My Legions! by Harry Turtledove
My rating: 2 of 5 stars

Harry Turtledove never shied away from overuse of exposition in his long and successful writing career, and GIVE ME BACK MY LEGIONS! is definitely no exception to that rule. The subject of the novel is very interesting, the famous Battle of the Teutoburg Forest, where German leader Arminius (also known as Hermann) united tribes to annihilate three Roman Legions on their march to their Winter quarters. The battle was a classic ambush; unable to deploy to maximize their infantry formations due to the tight terrain, the Romans were slaughtered. The big mystery about this novel is how Turtledove, a scholar of the classics and ancient history, can find a way to make such a great subject become dull. Yet, find a way he did. This is no series book. Almost all of the characters in it are real historical characters. The outcome in the novel matches the historical outcome. Turtledove clearly knows this subject. Yet he dilutes the reader’s interest in it time after time with a repetitive, dull story that repeats the same expository comments again and again and again…. Governor Varus hates being in Germany, but will do his duty to Augustus. His Greek slave despises anyone who isn’t Greek. Aremenius despises the Romans for corrupting Germany. Unfortunately you can open just about any page in the book and read the same conversations and plot points over and over and over again. Turtledove basically restates his story premise in every chapter. The most interesting part of the novel is the battle of Teutoburg Forest itself and the Historical Notes in the afterward. Turtledove pads the book to restate the obvious (there’s going to be a big trick paid on the Romans by Arminius) again and again to get the page count up, I suspect. When they finally get round to the actual battle, it is told almost as an afterthought and told in episodic, choppy and almost claustrophobic fashion. The reader never gets the sense of enormity that this battle conveyed, he or she is just soaking up a vignette here or there. The actual history was fascinating– and it’s clear from the after-notes that Turtledove knows the history and read good sources for it, such as there are. The big problem with the book is that this is a novella’s worth of material stretched out into a novel, and the whole suffers as a result. If you like Turtledove, you’ll probably like this too, as it is much of the same kind of material as you’re already used to. If you’re interested in the battle, you won’t learn that much about it from GIVE ME BACK MY LEGIONS! I was not enthused.

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