Alistair, congratulations on your third book, Warrior. Since we last spoke, our heroes, Lucius Faenis Felix and Cai Martis, have travelled to Hispania and Felix’s homeland from the Northern Britannia of Hunt. What sort of man is Felix?
Well firstly, thanks for having me on again Ollie it’s always fun to chat with you. Lucius Faenius Felix was born into the privilege of the landed patrician class of Roman society. However, the loss of his family lands in Hispania Baetica, murder of his father and with no other career options, he was forced into taking a posting in the legions. Because of his background and family connections he achieves command early, perhaps prematurely and is tested in battle in the most brutal fashion. Now, ten years on, in Warrior he is a battle-hardened commander. Felix, however has managed to hold onto his humanity throughout and has a particular love for his closest comrades
Why has he returned home?
As I mentioned Felix suffered the loss of his family lands. In book 1 ‘Siege’ as a result of saving his general Quintus Lollius Urbicus from a loss of face in battle he receives a promise from him that he will do all he can to help Felix recover his lands. In Warrior he is returning to his homeland at the behest of Urbicus to see the vow fulfilled. But Felix has also uncovered the identity of his father’s murderer and has vengeance in his heart.
What was the Hispania of 150AD, peace and love or danger at every turn? The region where Warrior takes place, the province of Hispania Baetica, roughly equating to modern day Andalusia, had been under the control of Rome since the end of the Second Punic war, so some 350 years. It had a number of major towns and cities such as Gades (Cadiz), Baelo Claudia (Tarifa), Italica (Seville), Corduba (Cordoba) and Malaca (Malaga) so it had been thoroughly Romanized. There was extensive agriculture, much like today, with great swathes of land covered with mile after mile of olive plantations, wheat and corn, and all manner of fruits. However much of the land was also very mountainous with the Sierra Morena and Betic Cordillera ranges dominating the province. In the Middle Ages bands of bandits were known to inhabit these, remote and hard to access, areas and I felt it wasn’t too much of a stretch to imagine a similar situation would have existed in imperial times. Therefore the homeland Lucius has returned to is being ravaged by outlaw gangs. Or at least that is how it appears initially to our hero.
We’re in the rule of Antoninus, he of the Antonine Wall, and his reign was relatively peaceful wasn’t it?
It was indeed a period of peace and economic growth for the empire. Antoninus Pius is known as one of the ‘Five Good Emperors’. But was he good or just lucky having inherited the imperial throne from one of the greats, Hadrian? The start of his reign began with the invasion of northern Britannia, possibly on the pretext of putting down a rebellion by elements of the Brigantes tribe, though the main motivator was likely a desire to prove his martial credentials by expanding the empire beyond his predecessor’s wall. But that was the first and last major conflict he had to deal with.
Did you always plan to write a trilogy?
I haven’t really considered this before, but thinking about it now I only really had the rough outline of my first book ‘Siege’ in mind, but once I sat down to write, the story developed and as the characters emerged the potential for a much grander series became apparent. The trilogy is complete, but the series will continue and I have more in the planning.
Martis is a member of the Belgian tribe the Nervii – what was distinctive about them?
The Nervii were one of the Germanic tribes inhabiting the northern part of Gaul around modern-day central Belgium. Julius Caesar made specific mention of their fierceness in battle, which given the numerous tribes he faced on the way to total victory is noteworthy. It is known they would travel a long way for the opportunity to face anyone in a pitched fight. Several auxiliary regiments formed of warriors of the Nervii clan served throughout northern Britannia, both along Hadrian’s and the Antonine wall or their outlying forts. Regularly, it seems, they were posted in the most exposed positions.
We’ve recently seen Ridley Scott dismiss historians when making a work of fiction. As a novelist, though restricted in a way that perhaps a Hollywood director is not, what are your thoughts on his views of the importance of history?
I’ve always taken the view it is the story that’s paramount. That said, I aim to be as accurate as available evidence allows with historical events and figures, although I may occasionally be a little flexible around key dates if it fits better with the story. However, there is so much that is unknown in a great deal of ancient history allowing fiction writers a great deal of scope to fill in the gaps. For example, we know Antoninus Pius directed one of his Legates, Quintus Lollius Urbicus to expand his empire into Caledonia, all we know for certain beyond that is around three years later Urbicus built or began building a new wall between the Clyde and Forth Isthmus. We are certain of almost nothing about the Legate’s campaign other than what can be assumed from the archaeological record, leaving lots of fodder for new stories.
Will we see a fourth book?
Yes, in a word, the series will continue, though the focus of it will likely shift to the next generation. Though all of the main characters from the first three books will still be very much involved. I am also working on a brand-new project. In my research of Roman Andalusia for Warrior I was pleasantly surprised with my discovery of how important Spain had been for key periods of the Republic and Imperial periods. I have become particularly interested in the Second Punic war, surprisingly perhaps, not so much with the legendary Hannibal Barca but with his brother Hasdrubal, who was left in charge of Carthage’s forces in Iberia who had initial successes in seeing off Roman incursions and was fiercely loyal to Hannibal to the end. He strikes me as an interesting but lesser-known historical character to develop a new series around.
If you were to have a meeting with the bigwigs at Netflix, and given an unlimited budget, what would be your casting choices for your two heroes, and your villain, Malor?
I love being asked this question and my thoughts on it change every time I come to answer it. It is a regular subject of lively discussions around the dinner table with my close family. At the moment I have a clear idea who I would want for my two main protagonists. For Lucius it would be Timothee Chalamet, he has the look of how I envisage him; slim, dark-haired, brooding and is an excellent actor. For Cai I’m swaying between two great performers, one being Brad Pitt, in part because of his age and build. However he is also adept at injecting a little light humour into often quite heavy subject matter, which Cai does too. But after recently watching the Viking film Northman, not a great movie, but Alexander Skarsgard was epic in it and would fit the part well, though he’d need to lighten up a bit if he is to play the part of my Praefectus of cavalry. For Malor I had to think about it for a while, but then I remembered John Goodman’s performance in 10 Cloverfield Lane, he can portray the perfect mix of intelligence and depravity required for this head of a gangster family.