________________ CM . . . . Volume XV Number 7 . . . . November 21, 2008

cover Germania.

John Wilson.
Toronto, ON: Key Porter Books, 2008.
279 pp., hardcover, $19.95.
ISBN 978-1-55470-112-4.

Subject Heading:
Teutoburger Wald, Battle of, Germany, 9 A.D.-Juvenile fiction.

Grades 6 and up / Ages 11 and up.

Review by Todd Kyle.

***½ /4


I do not share Pius' view of what Vesuvius has in store for us. The Gods may plan our destruction this day or not, it is not my place to presume. Whatever they have in mind, I am long past running about like a headless chicken at the first sign of danger. But it is an imprudent man who does not take note of what the Gods do. Even if Vesuvius falls back into peaceful slumber, I cannot expect my tenure here to last forever. If I am to finish my final volume, I must first begin and I thank the mountain for reminding me of that. I have no excuse. The events of a lifetime ago are as vivid still in my mind as if it were yesterday, so I shall take what time I have left and inscribe the small piece of history that I was both blessed and cursed to be a part of. No one else can do this. I am the last of Varus' lost Legions.


So begins this richly detailed and well-narrated Roman-era historical novel in which the elderly Lucius, sitting in an abandoned villa in Herculaneum as Vesuvius erupts, writes down his life story. As a teenage Roman soldier, he was witness to campaigns against barbarians in Germany and Illyria (the Balkans), culminating in a barbarian rout of three legions with him being the sole survivor. Throughout it all, his friendship with Freya, a young female warrior from the Roman-allied Cerusci tribe, develops to the point where as the barbarian tribes rise up in revolt against the Romans, it is she who spares his life.

     John Wilson, a geologist with an interest in history, delves into a fascinating period in history that is rarely explored in literature for young people. Vivid historical details, fascinating glimpses of the lives of soldiers and barbarian tribes, debates on Roman primacy vs tribal rights, political and racial divides — all are featured in this novel. Wilson evokes the excitement of the period, the intensity of people's beliefs and of their struggle for survival, the inevitability of their conflicts — making it all relevant to the modern world. The insight into Freya's world is also particularly fascinating and rare, as is her evolution from curiosity and awe towards Rome, to outright defiance.

     The narration is also skillful, most notably Lucius' first-person voice as he periodically updates the reader on his present situation and sets the stage for his trip back to the past. What is a little awkward is not only that the story of his past switches to third person, but that it jumps to scenes of Freya and her tribal companions alone, with Freya's thoughts exposed, things to whicht Lucius, as "author," could never have been privy. Similarly, the climax of Freya's sparing of Lucius' life, while a master stroke plot-wise, is perhaps a bit too obviously foreshadowed — seeing as we know Freya's intimate thoughts.

     In the end, though, this is a hugely rewarding novel that has much more than its exciting and bloody battle scenes to appeal to young readers, especially boys.

Highly Recommended.

Todd Kyle is a former President of the Canadian Association of Children's Librarians who is currently a library branch manager in Mississauga, ON.

To comment on this title or this review, send mail to cm@umanitoba.ca.

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