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on Nov. 18, 2011 :
well i really enjoyed the book i love greek mythlogy and glade to have read it
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Feb. 05, 2011 :
It has been some 30 years since I last read a historical fiction book. Since recently my love of history has led me to a somewhat haphazard study of all things Roman, it was with great pleasure that I found myself taken back to the first century BC with the novel Libertas by Alistair Forrest.
When I think of Melqart, the unlikely hero of Libertas, I smile as I recall Edward Bulwer-Lytton's classic adage "the pen is mightier than the sword", since it is primarily by his wits that Melqart, or Pito as he is known to his friends,survives in the turbulent and violent world his formerly peaceful homeland becomes when Gaius Julius Caesar leads his legions to war against the sons of Pompey the Great at the Battle of Munda (45 BC), in southern Spain, or Hispania as it was known then.
For me, historical fiction like Libertas provides the same benefits of travelling, by allowing one the ability to become immersed in another culture and all it has to offer. Beyond that, one can travel back in time to when the world was a simpler place in some ways, but people, as always, were motivated by much the same things as today.
Melqart's father is a baker and his mother skilled in the uses of herbs to strenghten and heal the body and the mind.
I particularily enjoyed the vivid descriptions of the food enjoyed by the inhabitants of southern Spain, northern Africa (in a remarkable encounter with the Berbers) and Sicily. How I love the mediterranean diet!
Libertas is a wonderfully spiritual book as well. Ever present are the polytheistic traditions of Europe at that time, but Pito learns that a much deeper understanding comes from the Kemeletoi, a celtic people who live in close harmony with nature.
And as he travels to Rome to regain the freedom of his family, the Berbers of the north African desert teach Pito the tradition of a "covenant" between men, and he learns that "civilisation does not mean great temples and streets of stone".
Forrest's love for his adopted homeland in Spain shines through in this remarkable story. And lest anyone think that eagles cooperating with people to help them hunt is a mystical flight of fantasy on the authors behalf, I refer you to the BBC Human Planet website...watch a clip from the Arctic episode, in the Altai Mountains in Mongolia as a Kazakh hunter and golden eagle team up to hunt a fox.
Alistair Forrest does a wonderful job of painting a picture, with words, of life in Munda, a small town in southern Hispania under the yoke of Roman rule two thousand years ago. Once I had started this book, I found it hard to stop reading, which is always the hallmark of a naturally talented storyteller.
I highly recommend this book to anyone who enjoys well-researched historical fiction. But above all, Libertas is a book about the remarkable ability of the human spirit to overcome tragedy and adversity, and emerge stronger because of it.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)
on Oct. 22, 2010 :
As I mentioned in my review (under the name Stan I.S. Law) of the phenomenally successful publication of Libertas on the Amazons, this is a book where fact and fiction blend in perfect harmony.
Anyone who likes historical novels will find this offering by Alistair Forrest a literary delight. Not only I defy anyone to separate history from fiction, but the story has such an authentic feel that you wouldn't care if it were based on fiction alone. Yet, to my amazement, the author is as knowledgeable in matters of the immediate pre-Christian era, as he is with nuances of best fiction writing. If you like history, read it. If you like just a fast paced, action filled adventure, then you will be equally as pleased. This novel holds its own with the best of historical fiction works I read.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on Aug. 23, 2010 :
High atop the Iberian Peninsula Mountains in the small somewhat forgotten village of Munda, young Melqart struggles in his sword play practice against the much larger and athletic Arsay. Though boys will be boys, their early conflicts of brain versus brawn escalates as the two boys age. Arsay becomes increasing jealous of Melqart who along with the help of a young girl – Leandra – ingeniously trap and kill wild bore for their village infuriating Arsay. As the tension grows between these two, so does the faraway conflict between generals warring for control of the Roman Empire; Munda suddenly finds itself a very strategic location for these generals. Melqart, Leandra, and Arsay’s lives are never the same as they all struggle to find their way in a rapidly changing dangerous world.
Alistair Forrest’s novel, Libertas, is an epic journey through Roman controlled Hispania in the First Century BC. Forrest develops the characters, their desires, their motivations, and all that they are forced to give up as a result of the world events that so disrupt their lives. One wonders what life would have been like in this quite small mountain village had the bloody Roman civil war not occurred. Clearly their lives would have been much simpler and less painful, but would they have reached their potential for leadership, ingenuity, love, honor, and in some cases evil? In this way, Forrest subtly explores a truism that it is in the times of genuine hardship and struggle that one’s true self and character comes forward.
I enjoy historical fiction probably for the same reasons I enjoy traveling. Both immerse one in the local culture, an experience which greatly impacts one’s view of the world and as such broadens the mind. Libertas was such a journey for me. For those who enjoy this genre you will not be disappointed!
(reviewed long after purchase)
Christopher Moss (formerly Nan Hawthorne)
on Aug. 14, 2010 :
From That's All She Read http://allsheread.blogspot.com
My regular readers are watching me spread my wings and read novels from other than the Middle Ages. Thanks to the proliferation of independent publishing, and in the case of Libertas, many more small publishers, divers authors' love for and knowledge of so many more times and places is becoming available. This novel is a case in point.
The time is the first century BC, the place Roman Spain. I should say "grudgingly Roman" Spain, but then that is one of the themes of this novel. Pito is a young boy whose heritage goes back to the seafaring Phoenicians. He lives in a town in south central Iberia which has been "civilized" by Roman influences. The Romans did an excellent job of coming in to a culture, offering the best of their civilization, sewage disposal, clean wells, communications systems, and so forth, and winning their tacit support of "the Roman Way". The trouble is that the Romans did not stop there. Ultimately it was the sword they wielded to command loyalty. In Libertas what Pito and his people face is Julius Caesar just as he is angling to be God and Emperor. The two sons of the great Pompey are in Spain to try to keep it Julius-free, part of the on-going and fascinating struggle between republicanism and dictatorship throughout the Roman Empire. The younger, Sextus, is a charismatic and fun-loving fellow, very clever and just flexible enough to be a survivor. He befriends Pito, who turns out to have a flair for engineering and invention in general. He develops a signaling system to warn the republican armies of Julius Caesar's movements. Sadly the resistance is not successful, many of the leaders are killed, and the rest are refugees. Pito's family is enslaved and he leaves with no less a celebrity as Agrippa for Rome.
Thanks to mischance Pito winds up in Sicilia, which just happens to be where Sextus has flown. He remains and helps this old friend to develop some improvements in weaponry in exchange for Sextus finding and rescuing his family, who are now slaves in Rome. It is the downfall of Julius Caesar, "Et tu, Brute" and all that, that facilitates their emancipation. Pito and family return to Spain where they discover that in Caesar's wake the petty warlords they set up have gone to town, especially Arsay, Pito's long archenemy. Arsay is a real S.O.B. and is crucifying people right and left. The mountain people, Celts I assume, are only too happy to help Pito and his friends fight Arsay's force. They are outnumbered and "outgunned" and though encouraged by a talking eagle who tells Pito to get over himself, Pito is not so sure they can win.
There are several things I really liked about this novel. One is that it takes place in a new time and place for me. I mean, I have read about the depredations of Julius Caesar in Gaul in Druids by Morgan Llywelyn, and about the Peninsula Wars in Portugal and Spain in Bernard Cornwell's Sharpe novels, but putting Spain and the Roman era together was fascinating. I am starting to want to know more and more about more and more times and places. I personally find historical fiction offers a more human and identifiable way of telling about a place and time, so I am in hog heaven with books like Libertas.
One thing I have discovered about myself is that I am most drawn to novels with what they call in Hollywood "a good ensemble cast". Translated to novels, that means distinct characters who are believable because they think differently, they talk differently and they act differently. Forrest did a fine job with this. Besides Pito, who is daring but painfully aware of the odds he is up against, and Sextus who is not surprisingly bound to become a sort of swashbuckling pirate, there are Liandra, Pito's early girlfriend who becomes a leader and warrior in her own right - nicely done, Alistair! - Ziri, the Berber who is mystical, Pito's mountain friends who are rather like Native Americans in that they live on the land, value it, and stick to themselves, Agrippa, valiant and capable, and, of course, Arsay, the epitome of the big dumb bully who is nevertheless able to take over.
The spirituality in this novel tends to an amalgam of polytheism, angels, mystical monotheism, and Earth religions. Eagles symbolize for Pito and the reader the overwhelming power of the elemental. One eagle promised Pito he would be a light to his people. And in regard to that, the next thing I liked about this novel is how Pito handles this knowledge, not at all the brave and bold hero but with self-doubt, fear he has to fight to control, and plenty of humility.
“Libertas” in this novel is not just freedom from oppression of the Romans but Pito’s invitation to and initiation into what the author calls “covenant”, a bonding and promise between people that is their free choice, and the sort of freedom symbolized by the eagles and their flight, their oversight of all below. In contrast, the villain Arsay subscribes to eagles as a spiritual force, but he wore eagle feathers, as a way to co-opt the power for himself.
My single favorite thing in the novel is one line, describing Agrippa's men's departure from the nomad camp where they have stayed for some days: “the hardened soldiers among us were moved, waving last farewells to the women each had befriended.” Befriended! What a wonderful way to describe the bonding, even temporarily of sexual partners! What a female-positive and refreshing approach to the whole issue of soldiers and the women they take to their beds while in foreign places. I think Richard Sharpe would understand that line. Along with Liandra and her companion Cassia it is clear from this characterization of friendship between the sexes that Forrest embraces the strength of women. Bravo!
There were times when I thought the action skipped forward too abruptly,the plot becoming ragged. Aetna eripts while Pito is in Sicilia, but I am unsure what the point of this was as it did not seem to me to advance the story. Nevertheless this was a thoughtful and at the same time exciting novel.
The publisher, Queastor, sent me a copy of the digital file of this book in exchange for a review, which I have finally gotten to. I read it using the text-to-speech feature on my Kindle 2.
(reviewed the day of purchase)
on July 11, 2010 :
Picked a hot, humid Saturday to read this book. While it's not a literary Mona Lisa, Libertas is a good read on a lazy summer's day. Melqart is an interesting character that the reader can relate to--a young boy from Hispania that becomes caught up in world events that are beyond his control. Through his eyes and experiences, the reader is taken on a journey through a turbulent time in Rome's history--the civil war between Pompey and Caesar. It's a nice touch that these events are presented not through someone involved directly with either of these main historical dictators but through someone whose involvement is more peripheral. Instead of Rome being the centre of the story, the reader learns of how the war between Pompey and Caesar affected the common man and the citizens of Rome's provinces who are nothing more than pawns in a game of power. Forrest's style of writing is simple and clear--but not simplistic. He reveals the life of an ordinary Hispanic village in an entertaining fashion without bashing the reading with too much descriptive narration. What it was like to sail, travel, and make war in the 1st. c. BC are revealed through the adventures of Melqart and his likable band of companions. As I am not a scholar, I am in no position to comment on the accuracy of Forrest's portrayals of historical events and characters, but I can certainly say that they ring true. WIth Libertas, Forrest has created a readable and entertaining look at a volatile time in Roman history utilizing a cast of characters that are believable and enjoyable. The plot moves at a snappy pace while still imparting details of scenery, landscape and the realities of ancient life in a way that doesn't read like a dry, history text book. All in all, a good summer's read.
(reviewed within a month of purchase)