Adventures of the Ninth Legion of Rome, Book 1: The Sacrifice
by Hurley D. Mahan
Westwood Books Publishing LLC

"The forces around the stones were charged during solstice times...especially when the moon was full...There had been stories of the disappearance of things...and appearances."

In this historical fantasy, time travel occurs from Britannia in Roman times to twentieth-century England during World War II. The Ninth Legion―with its commander, centurions, and soldiers―must switch from fighting the early Scottish Picts to join the battle against Hitler’s Germans who are attempting to invade England by air and sea.

The Legion’s young commander, Marcus, was known to the Roman emperors through the deeds of Marcus’ grandfather who won many battles with the Picts, so named for their tattooed bodies. Emperor Hadrian’s order to build the wall may have been prompted by severe losses, including the still unexplained disappearance of the actual Ninth Legion with its 5,000 well-trained soldiers. The wall, begun in AD 122, was to cut off Scotland from England. Just south of the Scottish border, it stretches seventy-three miles between the Irish and North Seas.

In Mahan’s tale, the Ninth Legion’s arrival at a Stonehenge-like monument happens at the time of the summer solstice in conjunction with a full moon eclipse, a time when strange events were known to happen. Stonehenge is a prehistoric monument of upright stones ringing an earthen bank, with stones arranged to indicate the solstice (when the sun is at its farthest north or south position). Other stones found in the enclosure are called blue stones. The Pict warriors are helped by a holy man, Mormaer, who knows how to cast a spell with the blue stones. Even he doesn’t expect to be teleported along with the Romans.

Soon Commander Marcus and his legionnaires, with Mormaer hiding behind them, realize they are in a different time period. A thinner Caledonian forest, with fewer roots and wildlife, presents supply problems. Marcus marches east where he and his men meet up with German air attacks around the British coastal town of Crail. A submarine landing at Crail’s seaport is defeated with help from the Legion. Attacks by air and sea are part of Hitler’s plan to conquer England. Unable to achieve air superiority by 1940, his Operation Sea Lion is canceled. Marcus and his remaining cohorts must leave behind newly-acquired friends, including Angela, her two children, and two Catholic priests who board with their family. The priests’ knowledge of Latin makes learning modern English possible for the time travelers.

Alternate history is a genre where historical events occur differently. This subgenre of historical fiction uses speculation to introduce an alternate outcome. Throughout the previous summary paragraphs, it becomes clear that the storyline is slightly skewed from historical reality. However, that does not prevent readers from engaging with the main characters. Sympathy with the Ninth’s early adjustments to time travel holds initial interest. This seamlessly joins with empathy for the British during Germany’ attacks and discovery of a Pict enemy in the Legion’s midst. What will happen next keeps you reading.

The author’s thorough research and knowledge of details hold in check any suspension of disbelief. More than that, Mahan introduces details in the story to spark an interest in historic times. The mention of Stonehenge and Hadrian’s wall should encourage reader investigation. The introduction of an element of romance is meant for the female reader, while battle scenes and bivouac details keep the male’s interest. Side topics result automatically from cultural differences and similarities of the time travelers. These topics include the universal love of children, families, and horseback riding, the validity of keeping slaves in Roman times, and the change between the early persecution of Christians, like the slave Petra, and the freedom to worship openly in Christian England.

The author’s creativity and affection for history afford this book an excellent chance of discovery in the current market as some movies and television shows as well as a variety of online and video games now feature alternate history tales. After such a promising start, readers will probably anxiously await the next volume in the series and the further adventures of the missing Ninth Legion of Rome.

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