William Altimari's Legion has the perfect groundwork on which to build an epic novel of the Roman Empire. The monumental clash of Germania and Rome, of civilization and barbarism, and, as Altimari portrays it, good vs evil. Unfortunately, the work is far too brief and far too short on character development to inspire any emotional attachment to the story. As an ancient military historian myself, pursuing a Ph.D. on the topic, I found this portrayal of the complicated politics of the relationship between the Roman Empire, and the Gallic and German tribes to be overly simplistic. Clearly, Altimari has done his homework on the military traditions of Rome and does a respectable job in painting a picture of how the Roman armies were equipped and fought. If the book were kept strictly in this fashion, which seems to be his strength, then I may have been more favorable in the review. But then if I wanted a clear understanding on the Roman military I would have purchased any of a number of nonfiction works on the topic.
To the detriment of the book though, there is dialogue in Legion. The prose is supposed to be epic and inspiring, but comes across as incredibly corny and cringe-inducing. Perhaps there was a slight bias here because I had just finished the phenomenal Shogun before reading Legion, and Clavell's work had such wonderful dialogue. Regardless, the lines in Legion are barely worthy of a bad TV epic (a la the Spartacus remake on USA, Attila, etc.). Exchanges between the characters are so short that the book feels abridged at times; conversations rarely last more than a page or two. As a result, there is little if any attachment to the characters. The best way to convey how Altimari portrays Rufio (the protagonist) is to think of him as the 1st century B.C. equivalent of John Wayne. If you find John Wayne characters to be believeable then maybe Legion will appeal to you. With stronger dialogue and more time for the characters to develop, this novel could have been much better, but as it is it all feels too rushed.
I won't ruin the ending for those that still have yet to read the book, but Altimari leaves little doubt as to who will emerge victorious by the time you get to that point. For those reading the novel simply for the depiction of ancient warfare, skip this book and read Pressfield's Gates of Fire or Tides of War for a vastly superior portrayal.
So what are we left with? A novel that provides a brief overview of the Roman army that can be better found elsewhere, and dialogue that so cheesy it would make Roland Emmerich blush. My true star rating would be 1.5 but I rounded down to reflect my personal tilt.