Tuesday, April 23, 2019

In Ranks of Bronze, the most outlandish war is still Hell

I hadn’t planned on reading a lot of David Drake in 2019 but I’m on my way to doing that. It wasn’t intentional and its certainly not structured (I’m not planning, for example, on reading all the Hammers Slammers works) and it’s probably better than way.

And the book that sent me on this trajectory was Ranks of Bronze, which I reread on a whim. It’s the one where Roman Legionnaires fight aliens.

Lost Roman Legions is a surprisingly common theme, although, to be fair, there really are some legions (particularly the 9th) that we have no idea what happened to them. Being kidnapped by aliens to fight their wars for them isn’t even the most outlandish explanation.

The explanation that the alien trade guild requires people to fight at the technological level of the planet the fighting is going on so they need pet ‘primitive’ armies is a cute one that exists purely to justify the story. And, frankly, who cares that it’s a little silly. (Historically, colonialism does _not_ work that way) We here for Romans fighting aliens.

But Ranks of Bronze isn’t as escapist as all that might make it sound. The plot is simple and straightforward to the point where I would say there weren’t any plot twists.

The real story is the character arc of Tribune Gaius Vibulenus. He grows from a boy to a man, to a seasoned soldier and kind of psychotic. But it’s also clear that becoming kind of insane is the only rational response to never-ending war.

In short, David Drake took a wonderfully fun and silly premise that could have been nothing but schlock fun and gave it some real teeth.

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