on 21 August 2015
I used to wonder what 'overblown' writing was. Well this is a great example.
The prose attempts to paint a vivid picture but ends up just going on interminably and I found myself skipping whole pages just to avoid having to read it.
All in all the characterisations were adequate, but I wasn't left caring much about them one way or another. The plot's fairly involved, with a few twists and the fairly hard to swallow proposition that one of the foundational figures of Christianity was a murderous psychopath pursuing mass murder as a fun way to gain converts. I am a keen history enthusiast, but with such a dodgy basic premise, the whole thing became more than a bit difficult to believe in, even within the construct of a novel. So much so that I ended up wondering why I was wasting my time on it, especially when there are better books written about this era, such as Colleen McCullough’s series.
on 20 August 2012
Rome: The Emperor's Spy is a hard book to categorise. Part thriller, part action adventure, part religious diatribe, I finally put it down as a good read that will be too controversial for some, too complex for others, while some will thoroughly enjoy it.
Read purely as an entertainment, I found the book to be pretty good. The characters have their own personalities and motivations, pantera (the main character) is particularly well drawn and the Emperor Nero gets a better take than the normally Byron-esque version we see - 'mad, bad and dangerous to know'. Of course, as soon as you hear Nero, you think of Rome burning, and that is indeed the climax to this book - not giving anything away there, as this is plainly going to be the ending from very early on. It's not the fire itself that is the real thrust of this book though, but the way in which the characters are brought to it in spite of their efforts to stop it happening or make it happen. This is where the main villain, Saulos, comes in. The leader of a Christian sect who need Rome to burn to fulfill a prophecy, Saulos is better known to us as St Paul, and this is where some people will find their tastes challenged.
If you're terribly religious, I wouldn't recommend this book - St Paul isn't the pnly problem you're going to have. For anyone else who likes a complicated plot, good characters and a book that grips like a free climber going up a sheer rock face, you could do a heck of a lot worse than spending your hard-earned dinarii on this.
I'll read just about any book, as long as it is well written. But unfortunately, I just couldn't immerse myself in this book at all. The subject is interesting, the characters are fine, I think the problem for me really was the language - it seemed really overblown, slightly cheesy and over the top. The Roman Empire during the reign of Nero is a fascinating time and place, and Nero himself a complex figure of contradictions. But this novel introduces characters that I just couldn't really empathise with, in situations that seemed really exaggerated, and written about in a way that just really grated on me. I'm sorry that I didn't like the book, and I appreciate that others do. Just not my cup of tea overall.
on 13 January 2010
As a child in the first century AD, Sebastos Abdes Pantera, son of a Roman auxiliary soldier, witnesses an anti-Roman Judean rebel being taken alive from a tomb in Jerusalem. Decades later we meet Pantera again as he arrives in Coriallum (modern Cherbourg) after a stint as a spy in Britannia, during which he went native in the turmoil of the Boudican revolt. No sooner has he landed than he's recruited by the Emperor Nero to discover the missing details of a prophecy that Rome will burn - and then stop it happening.
Sweeping through three contrasting and vividly imagined parts of the Roman Empire - Gaul, Alexandria and finally Rome itself - this epic historical thriller is ablaze with intrigue, treachery, murder and chariot-racing, and is peopled by characters of a depth and complexity not often found in this genre. Some of the characters are from Scott's Boudica series, which will please fans of these novels but won't, I'm sure, disadvantage those who haven't read them. Integral to the plot is an unorthodox take on St Paul (as he then wasn't) and the beginnings of Christianity. I've no idea how plausible this theory is, but it works in the context of the story and the author provides a copious note on the matter for those who want to pursue it.
"Rome: The Emperor's Spy" marks a welcome return to the punchy style of Scott's contemporary crime novels. The vigorous, well-paced story is satisfyingly wound up, yet there's enough in the way of loose ends and unfinished business to make this reader look forward to the next in the series.
The topic itself - the beginnings of the Jewish revolt - is somewhat original and interesting. The way the author lays it out is even more so, with Saulos (our St Paul, but here portrayed as the arch-villain, something of an Ancient times anarchist!) stirring up trouble in a rather compulsive way. Manda Scott's research is excellent, whatever you might think about her interpretations about early Christians, with Jesus equated to Judas and portrayed as the chief of a terrorist sect. One point that does come across clearly is that, in the eyes of many Roman officials at least, the Jewish factions were troublemakers breaking the Roman peace or even what we might call "terrorists" today. This was also the point of view of Herod and his successors who were also seen as usurpers (they weren't even of Jewish descent) and collaborators by their suibjects, having accepted Roman rule (although there is probably little they could have to oppose it openly).
The characters are, as usual, interesting and well presented. I do have three (somewhat minor) issues, however.
One is about Pantera siding with Menachem and attacking the fortress of Massada, garrisoned by an eline cohort of Roman legionaries, so that the Jews can get their hands on arms and armour. A Roman, secret agent of the Emperor, seems a bit unlikely to go that far. Is this even plausible?
The other is that they in fact manage to storm the fortress, against all odds, including numbers (about 100 lightly armed sicaires against a cohort of 500 heavily armed and elite legionaries). This does not seem very plausible either and a bit more explanations here might have been necessary as to whether something like this really happening. My last issue is the ease with which Ikshara changes sides. I won't say more because I don't want to spoil the plot for anyone.
Well worth reading and I'll certainly buy the next installment. Four stars for me, given my little issues.
on 15 June 2013
A good story and easy to read. One of many new books about the Romans which I like to read.
on 11 August 2012
This is the first Amazon review I've ever undertaken, prompted solely by the sheer awfulness of the work. This is billed as "rich characterization and spine-tingling adventure" and fails on both counts. As just one example of the characterization I offer you Seneca, described as an old man but who nevertheless is able to undertake a night journey of 30 miles with another protagonist and a horse, each riding a mile and going on foot a mile alternately, and arriving in a burning Rome as if having had a pleasant stroll in the park when "their dialogue had been fragmented, but always interesting ..." and ready for all kinds of derring-do. Rich, indeed.
In fact, the book is a thinly-veiled attack on Christianity. The villain turns out to be none other than the Apostle Paul and one of the heroes hunting him is Simon Peter. Jesus, it turns out, was really called Judas (no, not that one), survived the cross and burial, was spirited away to Masada where he recovered and fathered at least 3 children one of whom is the book's heroine. And this sort of tosh is apparently the result of "research from the university [of Cambridge] library"! When you see listed in the authoress' sources Acts 16 "which contains details of St Paul's actions ... concluding with his excommunication from the Assembly headed by James, and his flight from Jerusalem" you have to wonder how thorough the research was since Acts 16 sees Paul in Macedonia. His meeting with James and the other elders, who call him "dear brother", is recorded in Acts 21 in these terms:
"When we arrived, the brothers and sisters in Jerusalem welcomed us warmly. The next day Paul went with us to meet with James, and all the elders of the Jerusalem church were present. After greeting them, Paul gave a detailed account of the things God had accomplished among the Gentiles through his ministry. After hearing this, they praised God."
Hardly excommunication and flight. Seeing references to "1 Romans" and "1 Corinthians 17" in the sources is further evidence of - what shall I say? - sloppiness? Wilful disregard of the facts?
Ms Scott also has a hard time with the elements of the Eucharist, the substitutionary death of Jesus, the Resurrection and the New Covenant, thinking them to be Paul's inventions and seemingly ignorant of the fact that all these are fulfilments of Old Testament typology and prophecy.
If you're looking for adventure set in Roman times try the "Masters of the Sea" series by John Stack or "The Eagle" series by Simon Scarrow. In fact, ANYTHING but this. I have to give it one star because the software can't accept anything less. If it could I would give it a zero rating.
on 24 April 2010
When I see a flashy new book cover with the word "Rome" emblazened all over it - well, I'm usually a strong advocate of don't judge a book by its cover. And yet that is exactly what I did - and how I regret it now.
I just could not get into this book. From the start, I found it achingly slow paced, too much going on, and at times, simply poorly written. It doesn't know what it wants to be - a romance, a rip-roaring epic about charioteers, an observation in the subtle craft of spying - what IS this book supposed to be about? It boils down to the sum of its parts being something of an incoherent mess.
When I pick up an Iggulden, or even a Scarrow, I expect a crisp, fluid account of simple, yet effective storytelling. With this, I got the opposite - a lumpen, treacle-like narrative, and, worst of all - it was just plain dull.
on 8 April 2015
Another excellent read. I read The Art of War first and found that thrilling and fascinating. This is another very good yarn, a page turner and provides a fascinating historical slant with St Paul cast as an evil megalomaniac. As a Christian this was a surprise but certainly provides a different perspective of those times. If you are interested in this time, you must make the effort to go to Massada as it is an extraordinary place and its history comes to life under your feet. Needless to say Jerusalem is also a "must see".
on 1 January 2010
Having read the "Boudica: Dreaming" series, I was delighted to discover this new novel from MC Scott.
In this book we have some old friends from the "Boudica: Dreaming" series returning, and are introduced to some new characters who have a large bearing on the outcome of the story.
The book centres around a prophecy naming when Rome will burn. There are many twists and turns, unexpected events, and rivalries revealed, as we follow the characters from Cariollum to Rome, via Alexandria.
From the Boudica series we see the return of Caradoc, Cwmfen and Math. Math is now a 10 year-old thief and whore, as well as an apprentice for the local chariot racing team. The driver, Ajax, is another familiar face (if not name) from the previous series. There's also a brief appearance from Valerius.
New central characters are Pantera, who is The Emperor's Spy, Hannah, Shimon the Zealot, Saulos, Poros, Akakios and, of course, Nero himself. No relationship is as it seems. No-one can be taken on face value.
Politics, religion, spin, lust, love, hate, this book has it all in abdundance.
If you want to know more, I would highly recommend that you read the book - and the Boudica Series if you haven't read that!