Book Review: The Fire Islands, by Gilbert M. Stack

I’m not sure where I first heard about this novel, but it drew my interest for obvious reasons — another reflection of Roman culture mixed with fantasy.

What to Expect

Expect a fantasy world loosely inspired by Ancient Rome. Marcus Venandus is a member of the legions of Aquila (the world’s version of Rome; ‘Eagle’ in Latin), posted in a far away island outpost. The archipelago has a strong Hawaiian (or at Polynesian) influences.

A minor officer in the legion, Marcus keeps his troops in better shape than the rest. This comes in handy when an ancient evil rises again, and Marcus is the one leading the attack against it.

What I liked

I liked Roman-inspired worlds, and this certainly has an appeal. One always considers the changes that the author make and the reason behind them — the exploration of ‘what if’. In this case it’s clear that Stack is well familiar with the real Rome, as evident in the ‘feel’ of the world, how attitudes and politics that rules the outposts. Stack has changes some of the organisation of the legions to better suit the story of the world, while keeping some of the terms. This makes it enjoyable fantasy.

What to be aware of

This is a military adventure, centered on Marcus. Being a novella, there isn’t really the breadth to develop other characters, nor much space for women characters (though Stack tries as much as he can get away with). Don’t try to learn about historical Roman legion structure from this, but this is why it’s fantasy; for example, Venandus is a tribune in charge of a ‘hand’. The ‘maniple’ is a unit in mid-Republican legions, but consisted of two centuries (not one, as here), as all centuries and cohorts were commanded by centurions — tribunes had other duties.

Felix’s Review

Felix, who read Zelazny’s Amber series, likens these fantasy variations of Rome as Shadows of the original. (Of course, he considers his own Egretia as the original, but this isn’t an argument I’ll win with him). He very much enjoys the descriptions and variations, and was curious about the Polynesian culture in the islands. That isn’t something he ever came across in his travels (although he had his own fair share of encounters with walking skeletons and zombies, and offered much empathy to Venandus). It reminded him a bit about his own time in the legions, though he was taciturn as always on subject, and just said he’s glad to be dealing with small occult cases rather than large wars.


A recommended read for those who love the blend of historical-fantasy and ancient Rome. I am certainly keen to read more of this series, and see how Stack develops the characters, stories, and worlds.

Enjoying the reviews, but wondering who the heck is that Felix fellow? Glad you asked! He’s the protagonist of the Togas, Daggers, and Magic series, an historical-fantasy blend of a paranormal detective on the background of ancient Rome.

Come meet Felix and his world on the free short stories and novels!

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