The Legions of Fire, by David Drake


Lochaber Axeman, QC
Feb 9, 2008
THE LEGIONS OF FIRE by David Drake 1 ½ Stars, 33/100

David Drake made his name writing military science fiction, such as the great Hammer’s Slammers series of stories/books, and was one of the greats of military SF for BAEN Books in the 1980’s. Drake’s brilliant plotting of The General series of books (The Hammer, The Anvil, The Forge, The Steel, and The Sword), co-written with S.M. Stirling, remains one of my favourite SF series of all time for plain hard-hitting action, brilliantly described battles, and its cyber-steam/star-faring/carbine-wielding/dog-riding fallen human civilization. In recent years, Drake turned his efforts to fantasy, and wrote the Lord of the Isles series. While that series grabbed my interest, it was not able to hold on to it to the end. The Legions of Fire, the first of a planned quartet, failed to grab my interest at all, and it was only through sheer determination that I finished this sadly boring book.

The story is set in ancient Rome, during the first century A.D. However, it is not called Rome, but rather “Carce (pronounced “kar-see”)”. Everything else about the background is Roman: the Capatoline Hill, the Appian Way, Germany, Gaul, Carthage, Julius Caesar, Augustus Caesar, the Flavian Amphitheatre, etc. and so on. So why did Drake call Rome, Carce? Your guess is as good as mine, because it makes no sense to me, and the renaming comes off as being very false when everything else is so clearly Roman. Aside from that, the story is about a horrible supernatural threat not only to Carce’s Roman Empire, but to the whole world, and how four main characters react/deal with the threat. The four characters are Corylus, the son of a Roman knight, his friend Varus, Varus’ sister Alphena, the children of a Senator, and finally their step-mother Hedia. Drake draws these characters out quite well, and I was impressed with his ability to demonstrate the different personalities of each. It was these nicely drawn characters that kept me reading. Drake also used classic mythology from which to draw the magical system (dryads, nymphs, and “otherworld” dimensions), which fit very well with the Roman setting.

So with the above setting (Rome) and a big bad threat (the end of the world), four interesting primary characters, some very interesting supporting characters, and a plausible and interesting system of magic based on our own historical mythology, you would think that this would be a good book. I am sorry to say that it is not a good book. It is the most boring book of fiction that I have read in recent memory, and the main reason is that in about 370 pages of text, nothing really happens until the last 100 pages or so, and even that is not particularly suspenseful or surprising. I had looked forward with some anticipation to this book, because of my experience with Drake’s science fiction and with his fairly decent Lord of the Isles. I was sadly disappointed, because I know that Drake is capable of much better plotting that what was offered in The Legions of Fire. There was not one surprising moment, and those moments of action or suspense were few and far between, and generally weak. I was grateful when I finally read the last page.

I do not like writing harsh reviews of anyone’s work, but especially of authors I have enjoyed in the past, because of two things: firstly, I have affection for authors who have given me the gift of a good read; secondly, it means my screening system has failed me, because life is too short to read bad books, so I try not to. Do not read this book, as it is not an effort worthy of Drake’s previous achievements, and I hope that he goes back to the drawing board for the sequels. Surely an author of Drake’s abilities could transfer from military SF and produce a gripping, fast-paced fantasy. With characters like Corylus, Varus, Hedia and Alphena, he should have been able to, but alas, did not. Do yourself a favour, take a pass on this 1 ½ star book, and grab a copy of The General series or Hammer’s Slammers if you want to experience David Drake. I think I might go do a quick re-read of Raj Whitehall’s adventures myself for summer vacation.

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