Customer Reviews


8 Reviews
5 star:
 (7)
4 star:
 (1)
3 star:    (0)
2 star:    (0)
1 star:    (0)
 
 
 
 
 
Average Customer Review
Share your thoughts with other customers
Create your own review
 
 
Most Helpful First | Newest First

8 of 9 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Convincing, informative, entertaining, 3 Sep 2006
By 
Philip Inman (Debrecen, Hungary) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome (Paperback)
Those who are already familiar with Sean Gabb's writings in the field of political polemic will recognise his racy, highly readable style, but in this book not only he has surpassed himself, he has demonstrated once again that more truth can be conveyed in a work of fiction than in an attempt at scholarly abstraction. The Column of Phocas is indeed a page turner. It is a difficult call to decide how to write colloquial and often vulgar dialogue for a time in the distant past. Gabb settled for a sort of 21st Century mid-Atlantic demotic, which is fine, once you have got to used to it. It means that the book will date quickly. I am not suggesting he should have written in the style of a prep school Latin master; I just wondered whether, with his knowledge of the Classics, Gabb could not have tried to translate a few contemporary oaths, not of the "Ye Gods" or "By Jove" variety, but more to do with bodily parts and functions. The only other mild quibble is that the proof reading could have been a bit tighter: in one or two crucial sentences the main verb is missing. The meaning was clear enough, but it broke the tension. All that said, Gabb succeeds in conveying vividly the squalor, decadence and bustle of the defeated regime of the Western Empire: maybe he had in mind a prophecy for the current generation. I learnt a few things about papyrus-making, book-copying and the working of the Roman monetary system. The second edition, which cannot be too long in coming, could usefully include a fold-out map of early mediaeval Rome, so we can follow the comings and goings of the main characters. The squeamish should not be put off by the endless effing and blinding, nor by the sex and violence: along with the generally unsavoury nature of most of the characters, this has a purpose in repelling the readers, but then bringing us back in the final denouement. Curiously, this reader came away with the feeling that this was a great moral book. Sean Gabb has not revealed his theology up to now in his writings; now he has and he is spot on. Buy the book and enjoy it.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


6 of 7 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lovers of historical fiction will love this!, 25 Aug 2006
By 
This review is from: The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome (Paperback)
Remember all the naughty stuff they didn't tell you about Roman times when you studied Latin and ancient history? Well, there's plenty of it here in this highly entertaining yet informative thriller. Don't let the rather subdued cover put you off, this is a truly page-turning intrigue with the attendant sex and violence graphically portrayed. The author also finds time to explore themes of honour and duty alongside the dark comedy and plot twists.

Though written over two centuries later, The Column of Phocas - though fiction - serves as a perfect companion to Gibbon's Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire for any discerning bookshelf. Some of the verbal anachronisms (eg cockney rhyming slang like "Let’s have a butchers at what he’s still got under there" early on) might confuse Americans but use of the modern vernacular ultimately serves to make the book accessible.

I, for one, haven't enjoyed historical fiction this much since The Name of the Rose and eagerly look forward to the sequel.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


3 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars The past is never dead, 24 Sep 2006
By 
D. J. Carr (London, UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome (Paperback)
Too often historical novels are replete with technical accuracy but fail to breathe any sort of life into the characters, presenting them instead as one-dimensional meat puppets with hilariously stilted lines. Sean Gabb gets top marks for avoiding this pitfall and writing a novel that is not only fascinating in its historical detail but is also populated by real people with inner and outer lives that are at least as complicated as our own. At the risk of sounding a little cliched, he really does bring the past to life and weaves into it a gripping story. I cannot remember the last time a novel so thoroughly engaged me. When can we expect the sequel?
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 3 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A gripping read, 29 Nov 2006
By 
Ms. Rebecca Baty "karoobex" (Ramsgate UK) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome (Paperback)
This is a gripping read and one I found difficult to put down. Dr Gabb starts his novel with a man reflecting on his life in a monastry in the north of England. As he tells the story he blends in murder most foul, conspiricies frantic chases, sword fights, sexual discovery and snippets of latin history. I can only but reccommend it to all fans of the action detective novel and even the spy novel.

I am hungry for the sequal
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars more, please, 16 Sep 2006
By 
A. WITCOMBE-SMALL "witcombesmall" (Aylesbury, England) - See all my reviews
(REAL NAME)   
This review is from: The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome (Paperback)
First the bad news. This book is either self-published or published by a very minor publishing house indeed, so the production and layout are not appealing, and typos are abundant.

Now for the good news. This is a very good first novel by someone more known as an academic and a commentator on economic and social issues. It is set in a period not generally used as the setting for novels, largely on the grounds of public ignorance and lack of interest - the era of the post-Constantinian church and the decay of Rome, so it makes a change from the thrillers with a religious dimension set on either side of that era in Roman arenas or the desert of the Middle East with Crusaders and Saracens fighting it out.

The narrator and hero (with whom I suspect we should identify the author) is a vigorous young Kentishman of sexually ambidextrous abilities who finds himself (under circumstances less agreeable than he would have preferred) sent from the squalor of Kent to the decayed splendour of Rome, accompanying a priest on a mission to collect books for the nascent English church. As the journey progresses, he finds himself thrust into a maelstrom of religious and political intrigue, which justifies a certain amount of rather well-handled violence and creative bad language. He also manages to enjoy a certain amount of sex and make a lot of money. Those familiar with the author's other writings will enjoy the (necessary) disquisitions on the money system, banking, stock exchanges, the merits and demerits of various social systems, and the existence or non-existence, power or impotence of deities. The mysteries with which the narrator is obliged to deal are rounded off by some very ingenious twists.

I am delighted to note that a sequel is in preparation. The book begins with the narrator as an old man in the monastery at Jarrow, teaching novices including the (future Venerable) Bede, so I look forward to learning more about how he ended up there, and his journey of faith and doubt, violence and sex, along the way.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


4 of 6 people found the following review helpful
4.0 out of 5 stars Entertaining balderdash, 31 Aug 2006
By 
Raseagle (Ultima Thule) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome (Paperback)
I, Claudius it ain't but a good read all the same and I am looking forward to the next episode. I for one would like to see Mr Gabb double his ambitions by doubling the length of the next book, giving more room for character development and some imaginative musings about contemprary events à la Flashman, though having to do without the sources available to George MacDonald Fraser.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


1 of 2 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars A Splendid Historical Romp, 28 May 2009
By 
Jack England (Henley-on-Thames) - See all my reviews
This review is from: The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome (Paperback)
If you're a fan of Bernard Cornwell, Patrick O'Brian, or Conn Iggulden, and perhaps even Robert Graves, then you will love this tale of murder and mystery set in Ancient Rome after the sackings of the Goths.

The Column of Phocas begins in the style of Bernard Cornwell in his Saxon Stories, with an ancient narrator retelling his life as a brash young man carving a trail of blood, debauchery, lust, greed, and fantastic luck, through a dark age of religious friction and good old-fashioned power politics.

This usage of an old man telling his own tale does remove the tiniest sense of danger, as you always know the hero is definitely going to survive, but you always know Captain Kirk is going to get through every episode of the original Star Trek, so there's not too much lost there. Plus, you get the guilt, the pathos, and the humour of an old man making his final confession.

The plot is suitably intricate and believable to keep you guessing throughout, and there's enough sex and violence to keep you on the edge of your seat, as the chief protagonist fights his way from one cliff edge to another. Many writers are afraid of letting everything out. Gabb has no such fears.

When the movie is made of this book, Paul Bettany will be the ideal lead role as Aelric, with perhaps Ray Winstone as One-Eye, Alan Rickman as the Dispensator, and Russell Crowe playing a cameo role as King Ethelbert.

This book will almost certainly be made into a film. It has all of the elements necessary to grip an audience. Let us hope that Sean Gabb gets to write the movie script version of this highly entertaining book, when the call comes from Hollywood, and that he doesn't let the money men take away too much of the central message of this book, on the nature of humanity.

As an L.A.Wilding man myself, I also thoroughly enjoyed the erudite use of Latin (and Greek) throughout the book, from a man who obviously knows what he is talking about. Eat your heart out J.K.Rowling!

Finally, this is obviously written by a man thoroughly steeped in the historic tradition of educated British comedy. On every page you can sense the Baby Eating Bishop of Bath and Wells, many of the characters from the Fast Show, and the ghost of Terry Gilliam, all straining to get in and play bit-part characters in this fascinating age of liberty-loving barbarianism mixed in with tax-loving churches and emperors.

In a phrase; a splendid romp of entertainment. In a word; excellent.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


2 of 4 people found the following review helpful
5.0 out of 5 stars Lively and thoroughly entertaining romp, 23 Oct 2006
By 
This review is from: The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome (Paperback)
Sean Gabb's achievement here is highly commendable. He brings the worlds of the past and present together in a believable and accessible tale rich in action and detail. Although a good deal stronger in terms of sex and violence, this is an admirable companion to the Ellis Peters Cadfael mysteries and addresses some similar spiritual and moral points. Gabb's style is both pacy and racy; his combination of the contemporary vernacular (particularly Cockney) with a Chaucerian earthiness of image is striking and should appeal to a wide audience.
Help other customers find the most helpful reviews 
Was this review helpful to you? Yes No


Most Helpful First | Newest First

This product

The Column of Phocas: A Novel of Murder and Intrique Set in Mediaeval Rome
19.99
In stock
Add to basket Add to wishlist
Only search this product's reviews