THE MISPLACED LEGION
by Harry Turtledove
Reviewed by Steven H Silver
Predated by two short novels written under the pen name ďEric Iverson,Ē The Misplaced Legion heralded a new stage of Harry Turtledoveís career. The first volume of a four book epic detailing the travails of a Republican Roman legion that finds itself in a world based on their own future as the Byzantine Empire, albeit with magic.
Marcus Aemilius Scaurus found himself leading three cohorts of Roman legionnaires under Julius Caesar through Gaul when they were ambushed by a tribe of Celts, led by Viridovix. When the two commanders came face to face in battle, their swords create a magical dome that transports everyone within it, more than 1400 legionnaires and a Celt, to another world. Making the best of a perplexing situation, Viridovix attaches himself to the only link left to his own world and Marcus offers his cohorts as mercenaries to the Emperor of Videssos, Mavrikios Gavras.
The Roman quickly find themselves in the midst of Byzantine intrigue, not just among Mavrikiosí own court, which includes his younger brother, Thorisin, but also Vardanes Sphrantzes, the Sevastos (Prime Minister) and nephew of Mavrikiosí predecessor, and Vardanesí ineffectual, but military-minded nephew, Ortaias, but also the competing foreign emissaries and mercenaries lodged in the capital. In addition, the Romanís beliefs are far from the Phos-worship of the natives, which vary as widely as any of the different sects of Christianity. If this sounds like Turtledove has created a complex world, he has, adopting and adapting from the Byzantine Empire and its environs.
Although Marcus tries to skirt the intrigue, he manages to run afoul of Avshar, the foul magician and ambassador to Videssos from Yezd, an upstart nation on its Western borders. When Marcusís sword deflects a spell cast by the sorcerer, Avshar flees for his home country and provides Mavrikios with a casus belli. Before the Videssians and Romans can set off for battle, however, they must deal with the discord among themselves and the various mercenaries from different nations, tribes, and religious beliefs.
Unlike many of Turtledoveís later novels, which have numerous viewpoint characters, The Misplaced Legion mostly is seen through Marcus Scaurusís eyes. While this limits the scope of what Turtledove can present to his readers, it also provides a coherence of vision which complements the Legionís new experiences in Videssos. Rather than having a full idea of where things are and what the background of situations are, the reader is as in the dark about things as Marcus is.
Although the politics of Videssos and its conflict with Yezd are driving factors in the novel, Turtledove also builds relationships between his characters. While Marcus already knows and trusts his commanders, he becomes more aware of many of his regulars once they are completely cut off from Rome, learning what they can and canít do. Viridovix must also be fit into the equation as he changes from an enemy to a startled companion. Marcus also must navigate the world of personal relationships with the Videssans, Namdaleners, Halogai, and other natives of the new world, unaware of their pre-existing relationships on both a macro and micro level.
The Misplaced Legion is an excellent start to a writers career as well as the series, which would eventually run to not just the four original novels, but also two prequel series and a prequel stand-alone which explored the land before it was infiltrated by Romans from another world.
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