Book Review: Blood Forest by Geraint Jones

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Goodreads Synopsis: Twelve Roman legionnaires have been massacred. A bloodied individual is found among the dead.

He has no idea who he is, or where he’s been. Only that he is a soldier.

Forced to join Governor Varus’s army – fifteen thousand seasoned legionnaires – he heads north to subdue the hostile Germanic tribes. The army marches deep into enemy territory, a densely forested land of deadly traps and merciless foes.

As battle begins, Varus’s army is swiftly destroyed. Trapped in the forest, the soldier must band together with a small group of survivors who neither trust nor believe in him. If they fight together they have a slim chance of staying alive. But which side is the soldier on?

And is it the right one?

Author: Geraint Jones

Title: Blood Forest

Publisher: Penguin UK – Michael Joseph

Date: 2017

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Anything set in the Roman era instantly grabs my interest. I was looking forward to reading Blood Forest by Geraint Jones!

The first thing to say about this book is it is not for the squeamish, or if you dislike swearing. Films have ratings on them and this book made me think that the same should be true for novels. There were some graphic, gory scenes scattered throughout that would not be appropriate for younger readers.

The story is told from the first-person narrative by a soldier the reader only knows as Felix. After being found at a scene of carnage, Felix is taken in by the army. But he doesn’t remember who he is, or how he came to be at that site in the first place.

Talk leads to friendship, and I didn’t need friends. I didn’t want them. Why? Because friends die, and you live. It’s the cruellest joke in the world, and I had had it played upon me enough times that I was sick of the punchline.

At least, that is what the characters are led to believe. From the reader’s perspective, we know he remembers more than he is letting on. But, just like his friends, we’re left in the dark about what haunts him.

While this is an effective technique – you want to keep reading just to discover what Felix is hiding, never mind everything else! – it also means that I struggled to connect with the characters. When you know the main character is hiding something big that terrifies him every night, it’s hard to relate and connect to him.

Partly due to Felix’s reluctance to get to know his new comrades and partly because of their nicknames, it also took me a while to figure out who was who out of everyone else. For at least half the book, I felt detached from the story because I didn’t feel anything for any of the characters.

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The second half of the book is stronger. Despite his intentions, Felix does start to bond with the men. Not only does this make him a more relatable character, it also clarifies the personalities of the others.

The majority of the book is either the camp marching from one location to the next, or a battle. Or, rather, the army being harassed and loosing! When I think about it, there isn’t a lot more to the plot than that, despite Felix’s mysterious past. Once you get to know the characters, however, the battle has more weight because you’re willing these men to survive. The second half certainly gripped me more than the first!

It isn’t the level of violence that I found uncomfortable in this book, it’s the intimacy of it. The men who are supposed to be the good guys are prepared to commit acts as atrocious as the bad guys. Again, this makes it hard to relate to the characters and empathise with their plight.

The ending left me bemused. Without spoiling anything, you do find out Felix’s past. But I personally found it so far-fetched with everything else that was happening, I was bemused rather than shocked by the revelation.

An enjoyable read that was too heavy at times to be considered entertainment.

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