The Lost Ten by Harry Sidebottom - book review: Not to be missed!

The Lost Ten by Harry Sidebottom
The Lost Ten by Harry Sidebottom

No one has ever returned from the Castle of Silence, a remote mountain-top fortress prison in the wilds of Persia.

So a desperate attempt by a crack squad of Roman soldiers to free a young prince imprisoned there seems more like a suicide mission than an act of heroism.

Welcome back to the turbulent third century AD of the mighty Roman Empire… as brought to vivid life by Roman historian and novelist extraordinaire Harry Sidebottom, a man who has made this period of history his fictional home.

The Lost Ten – his new venture into the politics, warfare and sheer dynamism of Ancient Rome as it fought the rising power of the East – is a thrilling action-packed, standalone novel which follows a ragtag band of misfit soldiers on a nailbiting mission impossible into enemy territory.

Marcus Aelius Valens, a junior officer in the Roman Army’s Imperial Horse Guards, has become bored with ceremonial duties in Rome and is eager to take part in some real action.

But when he is placed second in command to experienced soldier, Gnaeus Severus, little does he know what's in store for him.

This furtive mission, involving a crack squad of soldiers – some of them members of the frumentarii, the Emperor Gallienus’s spies and assassins – have been ordered to rescue 10-year-old Prince Sasan who has been imprisoned in the impenetrable Castle of Silence by his uncle.

Severus, Valens and the troops set out across Mesopotamia and into the mountains south of the Caspian Sea but deep in hostile territory, inexperienced Valens finds himself in charge.

And as one by one his soldiers die or disappear, it becomes clear that someone doesn’t want the mission to succeed, a traitor in their midst who wants to ensure that the rescue party will never be heard of again.

Valens must marshal his disparate group of men and earn their respect, before it's too late...

Sidebottom is on cracking form in this fast-paced, brutal thriller as we follow Valens and his ever-dwindling, mismatched warriors through spine-tingling tension, treachery, mystery and a perilous terrain full of raiding Persian horsemen, ruthless bandits and predatory nomads.

As always, the people, their history and their landscape come gloriously alive in the hands of an author who knows the history of third century Rome inside out, and can seamlessly blend fact and fiction into riveting, high-octane adventures.

The Lost Ten grips from the menacing opener right through the long, perilous journey across the vast, hostile plains to an SAS-style rescue at the impregnable fortress in the forbidding Elburz Mountains.

Not to be missed!

(Zaffre, hardback, £12.99)