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The Boat of Fate by Keith Roberts

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parthianbow
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The Boat of Fate by Keith Roberts

Post by parthianbow » Tue March 29th, 2011, 8:44 am

I was pointed in the direction of this excellent book by a member of staff in a local bookshop to where I live. It was recommended to me as the best Roman historical fiction novel the man had ever read. While I won't give The Boat of Fate that title, because The Eagle of The Ninth (or is it now The Lantern Bearers?!) by Rosemary Sutcliff has that honour, I will afford it a place in the top five.

This book is astonishingly well written, and details the life of Sergius Paullus, an Iberian Roman whose life spans the last years in the western Roman Empire, when men such as Theodosius ruled, and generals like Stilicho fought to save the last parts of the formerly great empire from destruction. Sergius, an angry and troubled young man, wanders from Iberia to Rome, takes service with the army in Gaul and is then sent to Britain, where he is intimately involved in the last struggle after the legions left in 410 AD. The prose wears its historical detail very lightly, yet conjures a wonderfully intense image of Rome and its empire. I couldn't put it down.

It's a book which has only recently come back in to print, and I sincerely hope that a large publisher takes it on board and rejackets it, because it would sell in large numbers. In its current incarnation, that is unlikely, unfortunately.

Take a chance, buy this book. I guarantee that after the first chapter you'll be hooked. It's a fantastic read.
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

http://www.benkane.net
Twitter: @benkaneauthor

annis
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Post by annis » Tue March 29th, 2011, 6:07 pm

This a wonderful book,and surprisingly little known. I read it years ago, but hope now it's been reissued that it does better this time. Some books, however excellent, just seem to undeservedly sink without a trace. John James' brilliant Votan and Not for all the Gold in Ireland also come to mind, along with Charles Barnitz' Deepest Sea.

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parthianbow
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Post by parthianbow » Wed March 30th, 2011, 4:18 am

It's great that you've also read it, Annis. Spread the word! I've been looking into Roberts' histroy (sadly, he's dead), and it appears that he was a troubled man, who may have had difficulties with his publisher. Whether that had anything to do with his undeserved lack of recognition, I don't know, but it may have.

(The books you mentioned = more for my TBR pile! :confused :)
Ben Kane
Bestselling author of Roman military fiction.
Spartacus - UK release 19 Jan. 2012. US release June 2012.

http://www.benkane.net
Twitter: @benkaneauthor

annis
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Post by annis » Wed March 30th, 2011, 6:29 pm

Roberts was best known for his SF and alternate history novels, and I think Boat of Fate was his only straight HF. He also wrote poetry and had a strong interest in Celtic mythology. The theme of apocalypse often appears in his stories, which could account for his interest in the Fall of the Roman Empire seen as an apocalyptic event. I wonder too how much of himself he put into his main protagonist.

Knowing your interest in all things Carthaginian, have you ever read Bryher's novel Coin of Carthage, Ben? It's a take on the Second Punic War as it effects the lives of ordinary people, its events seen through the eyes of a pair of traders whose lives are defined by a chance meeting with Hannibal. Bryher's novels seem deceptively meandering, in the way that life itself often is, but they are quite profound, haunting and laced with melancholia. A frequent theme in her work is how great men are brought down by apathy and petty jealousies. Well worth a read if you haven't come across it already.

Thread on this forum about Bryher and the influences on her work.
http://www.historicalfictiononline.com/ ... .php?t=331

and a recently written review at Neglected Books which captures quite well what the book is about:
http://neglectedbooks.com/?p=968
Last edited by annis on Wed March 30th, 2011, 10:09 pm, edited 5 times in total.

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fljustice
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Post by fljustice » Fri April 1st, 2011, 9:24 pm

Thanks for the review, Ben. I'll have to look it up!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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