I made the mistake of tarnishing one author with the tar of another's poor efforts based purely on a jacket cover. As a result the hardback version of Mr Jackson's novel has sat on my shelves collecting dust for three years till I was looking for a book to dip into for thirty minutes or so.
What a mistake.
Three hours later I put this to one side hugely impressed with Mr Jackson (to the point I'll Kindle the next one). The author provides little in the way of descriptions or Rome, Italy or any other part of an Empire under the auspices of Caligula, but what he does superbly is draw the reader into the mind of the characters. From the opening classic of a little boy pulling the wings off a daddy long legs (or thrusting a thorn through a blind baby blackbird in this case) to Rufus' training and debut in the arena with Frontus wild animals to Cupido's elegant, moral pathos as gladiator-extraordinaire we get to feel the brutality of life under this most infamous of Emperors. Jackson's wordsmith skills engage the pseudo-senses of hearing, taste, smell, touch as we travel with Rufus and Cupido from slaves to historical pivots within the mad world of Caligula's decadence.
I've not been caught off guard by a historical first novel for some considerable time. I'm delighted Jackson has done it and I'll read the next with a greater sense of expectation. I hope it's as good as this.
I'd give it five stars, but I do think the jacket is terrible - the fault of the publisher getting on the bandwagon of photo shots that liberally adorn historical fiction these days. They are just not to this reviewer's taste.