As in 'Asterix and Cleopatra,' it begins with a bet which is trifling but of great symbolic importance. Vitalstatistix, accompanied by his wife and bodyguards -- ie Asterix and Obelix -- visits his boorish, nouveau riche brother-in-law in Paris. Homeopathix and his wife Tapioca -- the Mr and Mrs Dursley of ancient times -- have done very well under the Roman occupation and don't care who knows it. This is all too much for Chief Vitalstatistix, who gets drunk and boasts that he will give Homeopathix a dinner in return ... a stew that no amount of money can buy ... seasoned with Caesar's laurel wreath. Hic!
This is such a wonderful opening, and very funny. It takes a swideswipe at the collaborateurs of WWII without losing touch with the good-naturedness of the series, and it perfectly encapsulates what the Asterix books are really about (the best of them, anyway) -- honour, pride and resilience in the face of imperialism.
Nor does the rest of the book disappoint, as it takes us into the very heart of imperial Rome. PG Wodehouse once said that the important thing is to work out what your big scenes are, and here there are big scenes applenty. I love the slave market with its snooty slaves, and our heroes' arrival at the house of the amiable Tiberius and his family, and their efforts to be resold. Then there's the trial scene which is a lovely parody of Roman oratory. And finally there's the last minute appearance by the great man himself -- that wolf, son of the Roman she-wolf -- who under his new wreath of parsley can't help wondering why he feels like a piece of fish.
It's a classic!