Goblins at the Gates by Ellis L. Knox - Book Review

Write on: Sun, 03 May 2020 by  in Assaph's Reviews Read 1876

Guess what? I found an historically-based, military style epic-fantasy on the backdrop of ancient Rome. Can you guess how quickly I jumped to read it?

Goblins at the Gate is a masterpiece blending historical and epic fantasy elements. Highly recommended to anyone who enjoys military epic fantasy and ancient Rome.


An epic fantasy tale on the historical backdrop of late 4th century Rome (or rather, the Eastern part of the Roman empire). The story starts with the remote invasion of creatures out of legend, and builds up on an epic scale to threaten the whole empire.

Knox masterfully weaves the plot to a rising crescendo, builds credible interactions between the various people of the story as they come to grips with the new reality, and doesn’t get bogged down in unnecessary scenery. The combination of perfectly executed epic fantasy tale and real historical backdrop makes this a very unique read.


I loved the blend of real-world and real history with fantastical elements. Knox shows his education in history, with great attention to detail and a lively depiction of attitudes of the various people – Romans and barbarians, legionaries and slaves. His world is our world, and you can trace the (fantasy) plot amongst the geography of eastern Europe and its people, which gives everything a rich and real feeling to the setting.

Knox also has a deft touch with point-of-view, revealing the plot at just the right pace and from the right angle, switching at the right time to maintain tension and interest throughout. His characters feel real and realised, fully fleshed people. You may not always like them, but you can certainly see why they do what they do – smile at their wins and cry at their failures.


With the enemy being almost alien monsters, the drama is based on the fight to survive rather than on political intrigue. This novel will appeal more to those who appreciate military fantasy, rather than deep character emotional arcs. (Not that the characters or story are flat – far from it, there are plenty of emotional moments – but the focus is always on the big external threat).


Felix, having read these events, is just happy to be out of the legions. Army life isn't for him even when confronting your run-of-the-mill woad-covered barbarians. Despite the Late Empire setting, he's all too familiar with incompetent support from the ruling class. Still, having someone with proper magical training would have changed the outcome and he suggested a few different tactics (ones he employed in his own dealing with fantastical creatures), though he supposes in Julian's world they were not available and he grudgingly acknowledges that Julian was a decent field commander, given his resources.


I absolutely loved it. If you enjoy epic fantasy and military masterpieces, and would love to see it done on an unusual backdrop, this is a novel for you.

Last modified on Sunday, 03 May 2020 22:19

Assaph has been a bibliophile since he learnt to read at the age of five, and a Romanophile ever since he first got his hands on Asterix, way back in elementary school. This exacerbated when his parents took him on a trip to Rome and Italy - he whinged horribly when they dragged him to "yet another church with baby angels on the ceiling", yet was happy to skip all day around ancient ruins and museums for Etruscan art. 

He has since been feeding his addiction for books with stories of mystery and fantasy of all kinds. A few years ago he randomly picked a copy of a Lindsay Davis' Marcus Didius Falco novel in a used book fair, and fell in love with Rome all over again, this time from the view-point of a cynical adult. His main influences in writing are Steven Saylor, Lindsey Davis, Barry Hughart and Boris Akunin. 

Assaph now lives in Sydney, Australia with his wife, kids, cats, and - this being Australia - assorted spiders. By day he is a software product manager, bridging the gap between developers and users, and by night he's writing - he seems to do his best writing after midnight.



Twitter: @assaphmehr