on 9 May 2012
I really enjoy historical novels based in ancient Rome and have read a lot of them. This one is a fabulous read, immensely enjoyable with lots of twists and suspense from time to time, and GREAT fun. It is of course historical, with lots of good action, blood and war; such was the time.
Would recommend to anyone who enjoys beautifully paced, well researched books that are a cracking good read!
Can't wait to read the next ones.
on 16 February 2015
I have to say straight off the bat that this book surprised me. Halfway through the book I was convinced this was a rollicking Roman adventure novel – secret agents, schemes, the odd fight and escape – all good fun but nothing I hadn’t seen before. And I was enjoying it, although Vespasian’s youthful naivety was just a touch grating. Then the book surprised me by turning around and pulling out a serious military novel instead. Vespasian grows up, and becomes a lot more likable and decisive in the process, and I took it seriously despite the fact that he was still by age a youth. The scope of the book feels like it widens, and the situations Vespasian finds himself in suddenly seem completely serious; fighting in battles, negotiating a way out of very difficult strategic positions, deep in hostile territory. The tension was really ratcheted up a notch.
The battles were really well described and realised, I have to say. Battles can be difficult things to write. Often chaotic, bloody messes, it can be tough to know what to write to make them in any way intelligible or follow a coherent sequence of events, and to avoid simply getting bogged down in hack and slash action scenes without any idea of how to resolve the battle. Some authors will avoiding writing battle scenes entirely, and who can blame them when it’s such a tricky task? Thankfully Robert Fabbri does know how to write battles, meaning not only are we treated to these scenes in their entirety, but also they’re totally coherent and intelligible. I never once got lost or confused reading those scenes, and enjoyed following their twists and turns. It’s quite obvious that Fabbri understands military strategy and tactics, and this I’m grateful for. Even when there are no battles going on, there’s always something happening. Every chapter progresses the plot and has something interesting going on to keep me reading. I stand by my assessment of the book as “moreish”.
The character stuff is, for the most part, done well also. There are some big characters here, from all sorts of backgrounds; Antonia, Gaius, Asinius, Tertulla, Corbulo – even bit parts like Tryphaena, and Sejanus who looms large over the entire tale even though he’s never seen. They were all unique and very much their own forceful, distinct personalities. I say mostly well done – I did laugh at Vespasian and Caenis professing some sort of deep love and expecting it to last over the next four years, after an acquaintance of a few weeks during which they never really had time to talk to each other or get to know each other, and both being just 16 thereabouts. But then, that’s not so much poor writing – it isn’t implausible, after all, how many of us as teenagers thought we were in love with someone? – it’s just that with the benefit of experience I found it difficult to empathise with or root for their relationship. Of course, history proves me wrong, but where and when they met is unknown.
So why not a higher rating? Two reasons. First, the language lacks that certain flair and style that really sweeps me off into a story so that I get lost in it and hours pass without notice. Fabbri’s writing style is skilled, judicious, and lucid – all of which drive a very good, compelling, and coherent plot. But it lacks a certain inventiveness, a certain evocativeness, which I look for in books that go above and beyond. To be fair, that may simply be a consequence of the genre; the Roman adventure/military novel is a genre that lends itself to a more direct, punchy, functional writing style. Second, the book failed to move me or to get me thinking; I didn’t get emotionally drawn in, nor did my brain reel from any revelations. This, along with creative flair, is something I would more expect to see in the epic historical fiction genre, which is why I’m more of a fan of that sub-genre than I am of the adventure/military sub-genre in historical fiction. But I still believe that those two qualities aren’t exclusive to the epic, and am looking for any book that stands out and can really draw me in; those are the stories that make it into my cream of the crop circle. Returning to the book at hand however, Fabbri’s got a darn good book here, and I must admit I am intrigued to see where the rest of the series would take and develop Vespasian. Definitely a book I would recommend.