Books huh? What’s that all about then? I usually write about games, a medium whose narrative requires a tad more interaction than the mere turn of a page. So when GeekChocolate asked me to review Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage I was a bit apprehensive. I’m rather glad agreed now, though.
I’ve always thought that the dynamic and often very personal nature of single-player narrative is something that doesn’t adapt well to more traditional forms of storytelling as films like Tomb Raider and the Resident Evil series stand as testament to.
Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage is somewhat of an intruguing proposition on that front. The Total War series’ amazing attention to historical details to produce an accurate and authentic experience offers a very different and intriguing source of storytelling; one that is much more objective.
Destroy Carthage is a work of fiction by the Sunday Times best-selling author David Gibbins. He also happens to hold a first class honours degree in Ancient Mediterannean Studies from the University of Bristol and a PhD in Archaeology from the University of Cambridge.
This makes him a more-than-capable person to take the compelling historical accuracy of the Total War series and turn it into an entertaining work of fiction.
The novel follows Scipio Aemilianus, the man who finally brought Carthage to its knees fifty six years after his adoptive grandfather Scipio Africanus defeated Hannibal’s Carthaginian army (y’all remember Hannibal marching over the Alps with elephants right?) at the Battle of Zama.
Gibbins has woven an interesting and vivid tale into the historical facts surrounding Scipio’s life from 167 BC to 146 BC, charting his journey from a teenager studying the ways of war at the Roman military academy founded by his adoptive grandfather to storming the walls of Carthage at the head of the all-conquering Roman army and laying the foundations of what would be one of the greatest empires of the ancient world.
As well as surviving some of the most significant battles of the period, beginning with the Battle of Pydna where the Romans, led by Scipio’s father Aemilius Paullus, finally defeated the Macedonians and took the spoils of war and King Perseus back to Rome in chains, he must successfully negotiate the dangerous world of Roman politics in order to help steer Rome to glory.
This is where Gibbins academic chops come into play, allowing him to bend the history of Rome to make for an entertaining story.
Scipio’s journey is made more interesting and more difficult by his love for Julia, of the main Roman family, who is betrothed to one of his main rivals Metellus (or Quintus Caecilus Metellus Macedonicus, to give him his Sunday name), Praetor of Macedonia.
Fortunately Scipio has a lifelong friend and bodyguard called Fabius, who is around to watch his back. He also has the help of friends like Ptolemy, King Of Egypt, and the military historian and former Greek cavalry commander Polybius.
Some of the characters like Fabius and Julia have been inserted for dramatic effect but it Gibbins pulls it off convincingly, as you’d expect from someone who is both a Sunday Times best-selling author and an expert in the subject matter.
Crucially, though, the novel manages to capture the true spirit of the Total War series and gives anyone with even a passing interest in Roman history a tempting taste of what scholars imagine that life was like during the rise of the Roman Empire.
Destroy Carthage is certainly one of the more convincing and entertaining attempts at companion fiction I’ve seen and could even entice readers
to pick up the Total War: Rome II game to see if they could match – or better – Scipio’s achievements.
Ewan Aiton is Editor over at Play.tm. He spends his days stroking his beard and has been gaming so long he could kill a man with his right stick-thumb.
Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage is published by Pan MacMillan, available from September 2013