Top critical review
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on 22 May 2010
Following Imperium, Robert Harris continues the story of Cicero's career, told by his slave Tiro. This picks up immediately in 63 BCE, the year of Cicero's consulship, and runs through to 58 BCE, the year of his exile from Rome.
If you enjoyed Imperium then you'll like this too - but, conversely, this contains many of the same faults both structurally and in execution of the first book. The biggest problem I have with both books is the simplification of Roman politics: so Harris re-orders the republican system into a two-party parliamentary system of the `patricians' and the `populists' as he calls them, aligned more or less with the right and the left respectively. And the left are shown, in his books, to be comprised of psychopaths (Catilina), sexual deviants (Clodius Pulcher), and megalomaniacs (Caesar). Roman politics under the republic are actually far more complex since the idea of political parties didn't exist and, while factions might come together over a particular issue, such as land bills, the members of that particular faction might equally oppose each other on another point.
I particularly disliked the idea of making Catalina a psychopath who enjoys killing and mutilating boys and women in this book as it felt unnecessarily lurid and, again, very simplistic in its delineation of Catalina. Harris' Caesar, too, is branded by historical foresight so a huge number of characters spend a lot of time predicting his future career - again, from a very biased point of view.
I know this is fiction but there are lots of slippages in the research: armed legionaries wander around the city as a kind of police force and then Harris contradicts this picture himself when he quite rightly mentions that arms were forbidden to be carried within the city. He has Tullia get married in white which was a mourning colour: Roman brides married in saffron. Most irritatingly, Harris actually contradicts the historical sources: so his Caesar is unequivocally on the side of Catiline and supportive of his armed attempt to invade Rome. And Curius' mistress, Fulvia, is unnamed (despite the details of her role given in Sallust's [[ASIN:0140449485 Catiline's War) so that she can be murdered and eviscerated, and then appears under her own name to marry Clodius (this is the same Fulvia later married to Mark Antony).
I guess I could forgive all this if the narrative itself were exciting, but I'm afraid it all felt very lacklustre to me, with no excitement or passion in the writing - very strange given the contents. I still think Colleen McCullough does Rome far better than this, or you might skip fiction altogether and go back to Sallust.