The book “Blood Forest” is the debut novel by war veteran Geraint Jones. The author decided to tell the tragic defeat of the Roman legions in 9 CE in the Germanic forests from the perspective of ordinary soldiers. The theme of the plot as well as the author’s war experiences should guarantee a truly uniquely described ancient world.
The main character of the novel is Felix (“Happy” – that was the name he was given after being found) – a soldier whom we meet in tragic circumstances at the very beginning of the story. As the only one from the Roman unit, he survived the ambush and torture, and the multitude of bloody and brutal descriptions may move many sensitive readers. However, there is no denying that the multitude of epithets and descriptions allows you to feel the tragic circumstances that the hero could feel. Feliks, to his surprise, remember nothing – neither from his life nor from the ambush and bloody tortures of the Germans. Along with the plot, the soldier will remember his past and complicated decisions that will affect others.
Felix is found by a reconnaissance unit, which brings him to the Roman legions, where he is then recruited into one of the centuria and contubernium – belonging to the 17th legion. Then he comes to a clear rapprochement with Arminius – a young commander of auxiliary troops – who is to lead to the destruction of Varus’ army. As the action unfolds, a lot of new question marks appear, which only emphasize the confusion of the shocked soldier.
Felix – sharing a common tent with Pyza, Chicken, or Tytus – recalls the difficult life of the legions. The author colorfully shows how the ancient barracks, the adaptation process of the new recruit, and the specific hierarchy prevailing in the contubernium could look in reality. Despite the initially clear reluctance of his comrades towards Felix, he, along with subsequent events, proves his worth and proves that he is not a rookie, but a veteran.
The author in a very realistic way tries to approach the subject of legionnaires’ service, their well-being, breakdowns, and mental capacity. Some use the services of prostitutes who follow the legionnaires in flocks; others start families that will spend their last moments with them in a camp in the Teutoburg Forest. We have gambling, money problems, pay security in the event of a soldier’s death, and insubordination in the army. Young recruits are the lowest in the hierarchy – they are responsible for, among others, cleaning your teammates’ equipment. During the battle in the Teutoburg Forest, you can see how their character is shaped and they become immune to suffering, blood, and death. Geraint Jones certainly bases his story on his own experience and knowledge.
The great defeat of Varus’ legions in the dense and vast forests of Germany was conveyed from the perspective of the soldiers in a believable way. The author tried to show the hopelessness of the conflict at all costs, as evidenced by Felix’s change of opinion about Arminius at the end. There are also conclusions in Felix’s head: there is no good or bad in a conflict, and no war can be justified.
The most eerie thing about the novel is the overwhelming terror and anxiety of the Roman soldiers as they advanced through the dense forest in search of open space to set up camp; the awareness that they are in a foreign and unfamiliar land. The scene of the surrender of the last troops by prefect Ceionius and the murder of the surviving commanders is also dramatic. The author, with a multitude of epithets, on the one hand, allows the reader to feel the atmosphere and enter the heads of the exhausted soldiers; however, on the other hand, sometimes it overwhelms the reception of the song. Sometimes it just seems like it’s all too much.
Certainly, the professional approach of the author, who – as he mentions in the afterword – studied the subject of the battle in the Teutoburg Forest and tried to reliably reflect the facts and historical figures, is certainly a plus. For people who do not have problems with more brutal descriptions and a multitude of epithets, I recommend spending time with the book. I especially recommend it to people who still think that war is an adventure.