And the title that I have chosen? The long-awaited, eagerly anticipated Men-at Arms 443: The Army of Herod the Great.
Ostensibly, this is a truly classic Men-at-Arms title - someone unfamiliar with Osprey would probably struggle to understand who would buy a book on such a niche subject, but this has been one of our most requested periods and subjects to cover. The book is packed with line drawings, black and white photographs and of course our signature colour artwork reconstructions. This book gets right down and dirty with all the uniform and equipment detail that you could ever want, but it also goes a little bit further, by providing a short history of the four major campaigns that Herod's Army was involved in.
These four campaigns - The conquest of the Kingdom (40-37 BC), The first Nabatean War (32-31 BC), Aelius Gallus' Arabian Expedition (25 BC) and The Second Nabatean War (9 BC) are not covered in encyclopedic detail, but they provide just enough information to whet your appetite. In fact, reading one of these sections has already prompted me to search out some more information, as Samuel Rocca describes how Herod attacked some seemingly impregnable caves by lowering soldiers from clifftops in timber chests, allowing them to storm the caves. So, if anyone out there knows a good book that covers that particular engagement please do let me know!
Buttons, badges and bows are not usually my thing, so I don't often read Men-at-Arms books from cover to cover, but this particular title has such a comforting mix of information that I couldn't put it down and sped through the 48 pages in one sitting. Samuel Rocca has provided an engaging text, and Christa Hook provides some detailed...and quite moody artwork.
The inside story to this book is one of the main reasons for me choosing this title as my latest Hidden Gem. Anyone who has been following this book will know that it has been delayed for well over a year. That is because the Osprey legend Angus McBride was originally commissioned to illustrate this book. Sadly Angus tragically passed away - robbing the historical military history community of one of the most talented artists of the last 50 years. I will always regret the fact that I never met Angus in person. I did have the honour of speaking to him on the phone though and he was incredibly friendly and helpful.
I think it is a mark of just how talented Angus is that it took us a considerable amount of time to find someone to step into his shoes and illustrate this particular book. Angus specialized in being able to turn the most basic, sketchy reference material into a wonderfully realized piece of art. And although Angus illustrated dozens of Men-at-Arms titles, his pieces of art were never just simple figure plates. Instead he took the care and the time to put all of his subjects into a scene, with detailed backgrounds and a real sense of storytelling.
Christa Hook has stepped in to illustrate this book and has done so brilliantly. In fact, this is some of my favourite Christa Hook artwork of all time (probably only just pipped to the post by the brilliantly lit plate of a Macedonian warrior from Warrior 103). Like McBride, Christa has set all of her figures in a luscious background, packing each of her figures with colour and expression.
One of Angus McBride's artistic quirks is the fact that virtually all of his pictures have birds flying through the sky in the background. Have a look - they are quite often just tiny details in the background but they will be there, soaring in the sky.
I am not sure if Christa has included birds in a couple of her illustrations as some sort of tribute to Angus and his work or if they are just an unconscious inclusion - but it is a great touch, and brought a smile to my face.
Men-at-Arms 443 The Army of Herod the Great is out in November and is currently available to pre-order. You can pre-order this book and get 30% off it until the end of October.