This is the fifth of the Casca novels to be written by Tony Roberts, and the second standalone volume, following on from a trilogy set around the American Civil War and a single volume set in ancient Byzantium. This entry in the series is rather better focused than The Avenger, and is centred on Napoleon's invasion of Russia and the disastrous retreat from Moscow. Two sub-plots support the action rather than distracting from it – the first bookends the main story, while the second looks at the Polish involvement in the invasion,
To a certain extent the background to the series is largely irrelevant here (Casca is the centurion who executed Christ, made immortal as a punishment for his role). Casca's long term arch-enemies don't make an appearance and his resistance to wounds is barely put to the test. I believe this to be a positive step, reinforcing the inherent flexibility of the concept, and greatly increasing the variety of stories possible.
Perhaps the only flaw here (and one that is probably unavoidable in a single volume) is that the campaign feels shorter than it was. The French invaded Russia early in the summer of 1812, reached Moscow on 14 September, remained there for a month, and didn't reach even relative safety until the end of the year, after a retreat lasting for two months. Here the retreat figures most heavily, taking up half of the book, while the month spent in Moscow is passed over very quickly. Casca's own squad suffer nearly as heavily as any other in the retreat, emphasising the overwhelming and impersonal nature of the disaster.
This is a well written and entertaining entry in the Casca series. The horrors of the retreat from Moscow are well represented, without becoming overly gruesome and the framework of the campaign is made clear without cumbersome explanations. A worthy entry in the series. Casca: Napoleon's Soldier, Tony Roberts
The book is also available from the Casca Website