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EGM Book Review:
Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage

By
Posted on September 11, 2013 AT 02:38pm

Et tu, Sega?

It’s been a while since we’ve done one of these game tie-in book reviews. Quite honestly, it’s not easy to review a book like a game or movie, because there’s a lot less to go on. A book is based solely on its creative merits. There aren’t any graphics to critique, there’s no voice acting to lament, and there aren’t any controls to put through their paces. So, if I tried placing a book review on a similar scale to a game review, I’d fail miserably. It’s not like I can knock off points for things like font choice or the type of paper used at the printer! With that being said, I got my hands on Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage, the first of what’s supposed to be a brand-new series of tie-in novels to the Total War series from Thomas Dunne Books. This one highlights Total War: Rome II, which was just released last week.

Written by renowned archaeological/historical-fiction author David Gibbins (Atlantis, Crusader Gold, The Mask of Troy), Destroy Carthage follows the life of the fictional Fabius Petronius Secundus to see how Rome transitioned between the Second and Third Punic Wars, culminating in the fall of Carthage in 146 B.C. While Fabius may be the main character here, the story is actually about how the very real Scipio Aemilianus Africanus rose to power in Rome and led his army through Carthage. The narrative takes Fabius’ point of view as Scipio’s second-in-command; our protagonist conveniently rides his commanding officer’s coattails, which gives us an interesting look at what one of ancient Rome’s most famous generals would’ve gone through to carry out his lifelong mission of wiping Carthage from the map.

And while Fabius isn’t the only fictional character created to help demonstrate certain factual Roman political, social, and combat traditions, Scipio’s also far from the only real man to make an appearance in the novel. The feared Hasdrubal, leader of Carthage during its fall; Polybius, famed Greek historian and adviser to Scipio; and Roman praetor and censor Marcus Porcius Cato (better known as Cato the Elder) all play major roles in the novel, just as they did in history.

Perhaps the most impressive element of Destroy Carthage is that it finds such a large thread of history that’s so accurately able to parallel the action of the game. While a few sections get into the trenches in rather gruesome detail—including the Battle of Pydna during Scipio’s teenage years and the siege of Carthage itself—the book is, by and large, a political thriller. While we might think of that term describing the modern-day wheelings and dealings in Washington, D.C., politics absolutely played a role in societies from millennia ago; striking this balance of less action and more intrigue helps the book do justice to a game that requires meticulous planning. It also shows Gibbins’ attention to detail—he paints a vivid picture of what ancient Roman life would’ve been like circa the second century B.C.

Unfortunately, this attention to minutiae makes Destroy Carthage a slog at times. Though it’s not surprising given Gibbins’ scholarly background, he takes few historical liberties beyond the handful of fictional characters. Several Latin phrases are liberally thrown around, and with Roman naming traditions being so alien from our own, it’s a bit confusing early on understanding just who everyone is and their role in society. It all comes together eventually, but I found myself looking at the appendix a bit more often than I might like, which broke up the pacing on several occasions. A perfect example is that Scipio Aemilianus is the younger son of Lucius Aemilius Paulus Macedonicus and was adopted by Publius Cornelius Scipio, eldest son of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus, changing Scipio’s official name to Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus. By the end of the book, Scipio is Publius Cornelius Scipio Aemilianus Africanus.

Despite all that, I enjoyed Total War Rome: Destroy Carthage. The hardcover price tag of $25.99 is about what you’d expect for a book of this size (352 pages), but if you’re low on cash, a paperback version will likely come sooner or later. If you enjoy immersing yourself in a historical time period and learning a bit about long-extinct cultures—or find yourself obsessed with the corresponding game and need something else to help augment your experience—this is a solid read that’s definitely worth your time.

Author: David Gibbins • Publisher: Thomas Dunne Books • Pages: 352 (hardcover) • Release Date: 09.03.2013
7.5
The hardcover price tag of $25.99 is about what you’d expect for a hardcover book of this size. If you enjoy immersing yourself in a historical time period and learning a bit about long-extinct cultures—or find yourself obsessed with the corresponding game and need something else to help augment your experience—this is a solid read that’s definitely worth your time.
The Good More political thriller than action, this book serves as a solid tie-in to Total War: Rome II.
The Bad Though it’s historically accurate from a linguistic standpoint, the liberal use of Latin throws off the pacing and reading comprehension.
The Ugly The Roman centurion on the cover has a face only a mother could love.
Ray Carsillo, Reviews Editor
Ray Carsillo has extensive roots in geek culture, as he’s written about videogames, comics, and movies for such outlets as Newsday.com, ESPNNewYork.com, Classic Game Room on YouTube, Collider.com, and Comicvine.com before finally settling into his role as EGM’s reviews editor. His main goal in life? To become king of all geek media, of course! Follow Ray’s exploits on Twitter: @RayCarsillo. Meet the rest of the crew.

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