10 of 11 people found the following review helpful
Philip B. Yochim
- Published on Amazon.com
Harry Turtledove takes a fictious look at the Battle of Teutoburg Forest in "Give Me Back My Legions!" In this horrific battle, German barbarians under Arminius, a prince of the Cherusci tribe, wiped out three Roman legions, led by the Quinctilius Varus, the governor of Germany.
Primary sources of the battle are sparse, giving Turtledove great leeway in developing his characters' motivations and personalities. Unfortunately, he fails to do this: with the exception of just Varus and Arminius, all his characters are flat and thin, and there's little to either Varus and Arminius, as well.
Varus, pampered and arrogant, and softened by his successful administration of the wealthy and long-pacificed province of Syria, is sent by Augustus Caesar to bring Germany into the Roman fold. Of course, it's a tough job, but nothing an aging plutocrat and his Greek slave can't handle. He quickly discovers Germany's not quite as civilized as he's been led to believe, so he sets out to win over the locals with tax collectors and an increased military presence.
Enter Arminius. He's a Roman citizen and an officer-auxillary in their army, but he hates Rome, because, well, because he hates Rome, leave it at that. He starts the story with someone woman-problems, but a Roman perfect didn't ravish his woman, she was instead pledged to another man, a German. Then there's the issue of slavery: Rome wants to "enslave" Germany, but since his people has slaves, he doesn't have an issue with slavery, as long as he's not a slave. So he rallies his countrymen, such as they are, to resist the Romans.
Long story made short, Arminius finds his perfect location for an ambush, and leads the dimwitted Varus straight into it. (Despite intelligence to the contrary, Varus believes Arminius is a fine Roman German, or German Roman. Reminds him of his own boy, you see.)
Arminius' lack of reason to hate Rome is never explored. Instead, you see many examples of how he respects the Roman way: its efficiency, technology, luxary, and discipline. Turtledove could have just said Arminius disliked Rome simply because it had what Germany didn't. Turtledove does, however, successfully contrast German virtues against Roman vices, like the Germans' devotion to women against Roman's casual attitude to divorce and adultery, German honesty against Roman duplicity, etc.
If you've read Turtledove's novels before, you're acquainted with his limitations as a writer: the redundant descriptions, repetitive phrases, and the "you're right, but ..." conversations. So many of the scenes played out in this book have occurred in others. Even the deflowering scene is the same. And, while we're spared the Germans discussing how much better a Confederate cigarette is over a Yankee drag, we know that everyone prefers Roman wine to German beer.
I guess that explains why nobody in the United States drinks Budweiser.