Swords of the Legion
Cover by Romas


by Harry Turtledove

Del Rey


394pp/$3.95/October 1987

Videssos Cycle, Volume 2
Cover by Steven Youll

Reviewed by Steven H Silver

At the end of Harry Turtledove’s The Legion of Videssos, Marcus Scaurus is in a good, although dangerous, place.  He has been brought back to Videssos the city by Emperor Thorisin and separated from his Roman troops.  Through magic, his loyalty to the throne has been demonstrated, but he has since established an intimate relationship with the Emperor’s niece and heir, Alypia Gavras.  Of his close friends, Gaius Philippus is in charge of the distant legion and Viridovix and Gorgidas have left Videssos for the uncivilized plains of Pardraya.

Swords of the Legion tells the story of Marcus’s attempted climb back to favor after the events of The Legion of Videssos and his relationship to Alypia is revealed.  At the same time, Viridovix and Gorgidas provide a further look at the clashing cultures of the plains and the dangers Yezd poses as the Western Empire continues its attacks against both Videssos and the nomads.  While Yezd was previously a mysterious, unseen kingdom, in Swords of the Legion, the history of Yezd and the relationship between its ruler, Wulghash, and the sorcerer Avshar, is spelled out in greater detail than previously.

Turtledove includes many twists and turns in his plots as he follows his disparate characters on their solo adventures.  Taking place several years after the events described in The Misplaced Legion, the first book in the series, his characters, particularly the headstrong Celt Viridovix, show their growth as the civilization of Videssos and the constant war that followed the death of Mavrikios take their toll on the Europeans who found their way to this magical world.  The expansion of his characters is mirrored by the expansion of the world as Gorgidas discovers this world’s answer to the Sacred Band of Thebes, Viridovix discovers the meaning of loss, and Marcus, who has been a leader of men, suddenly finds himself stuck in a caravan as a lowly guard, unable to forge his own path.

The driving force of this novel, perhaps even moreso than the previous volumes in the series, is Avshar, the apparently immortal wizard, whose antipathy towards the Empire and Marcus led to the war in The Misplaced Legion.  Avshar appears, seemingly effortlessly, in the Yezda capital of Makuran, on the Pardrayan Steppes leading a band of outlaw nomads, and at the head of the army in Videssos.  He is depicted as being all powerful, making the eventual showdown between him and Turtledove’s heroes that much more interesting.

After the linking nature of The Legion of Videssos, Swords of the Legion provides a strong ending to the Videssos Cycle, Turtledove’s first series of novels under his own name.  Turtledove wraps up his story of Marcus Scaurus and the lost Roman legion while leaving plenty of room for future stories.  Turtledove has also created a rich past, which is what he wound up exploring in two additional series and s stand-alone novel, the groundwork for which was all established in the series which ends in Swords of the Legion.

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