War is always brutal, but particularly so in Ancient Roman times. The story opens with the playfulness and carefree life of typical twelve-year-old Roman boys. Born of noble blood with few cares in the world, discovering the delights of Roman society—trips to the city for sumptuous meals in fine restaurants, the hustle, and bustle of the city market and the slave auctions, shopping trips for fine clothes. But this trip also has more serious endeavors as Dante is tasked with procuring supplies and staff for his first adult venture of sheepherding and helping his mentor, Don Fedele, with the purchase of arms for his father’s newly commissioned army. On this trip, Dante takes his first step into manhood as he is called to defend his father’s honor. And this experience lays the foundation of Dante’s future persona as a military commander—the keeper of swift, hard, cold justice.
A subsequent trip to the city (to accompany his father to a meeting of the Senate) is interrupted as the Republic is attacked and Rome is at war. The young boys are summoned to their fathers’ sides on the battlefield to observe the waging of war, lessons all Roman boys must learn. The Romans are victorious in their first battle against the Etruscan and Latin forces, but the victory is short-lived as a surprise attack throws the outing into chaos. The boys are sent away with their bodyguards, but unwittingly are drawn into the battle as they have to fight for their very survival and are plunged into the atrocities of war; friends and fathers are lost in the most brutal ways. Broken-hearted warriors are the most fierce and vicious. The brutality of this attack pushes Dante over the edge and he emerges as a man… a warrior. “Vengeance has made the boy a man.”
But this is merely the beginning of the story. Follow Dante’s expeditions into the grim underbelly of war as he discovers that the enemy does not always wear a different uniform or fly a different standard. Treachery runs deep as son betrays father, countrymen betray countrymen, and friends betray friends.
Grab a front row seat to this action-packed story. Witness boys becoming men in the harshest of ways. This book is jam-packed with amazing characters and the brutal atrocities of war, but it is also a story of friendship, loyalty, and love. Very well researched and realistically portrayed. A must read. - Melissa Leach