A defiant return to form by Saylor after the relative disappointment of 'A Mist of Prophecies'. Saylor's strength has always been the rich and authentic historical setting of his Rome Sub Rosa novels, with the fictional adventures of Gordianus and his other characters backed up by an engaging exploration of the Roman Republic and the rise of Julius Caesar. The major flaw of 'A Mist of Prophecies' was the lack of any greater histrocial events, with the focus solely on a domestic drama. But in 'The Judgement of Caesar'Gordianus travels to Egypt and we get to witness through his eyes the downfall of Pompey, and the fateful meeting of Caesar and Cleopatra.
Action-packed, and as thrilling emotionally as viscerally, this is perfect historical fiction writing, and head and shoulders above the slew of Roman novels now doing the rounds. Saylor's talent is one to be treasured, and here he is right back near his best.
on 12 June 2004
'The Judgment of Caesar' opens shortly after the events of the proceeding novel, 'Mist of Prophecies'. Gordianus (suffixed, through his profession, 'The Finder') and his wife Bethesda are looking out for the light of the famed Pharos as they approach Alexandria in the period following Caesar's defeat of Pompey ('The Great One') at Pharsalus. What could be a long opening descriptive of arrival becomes, rapidly within a small number of pages, a diversion into a plot that will bring, for regular followers of Gordianus' adventures, strands from his past adventures.
Saylor gives as equal justice to bringing alive Ptolemaic Alexandria (a city of which little remains outside fable and ancient literary sources) as he has late Republican Rome in the other novels in the 'Roma sub Rosa' series. Some, on approaching this novel as their first exposure to Gordianus, could be critical of its lead character being known to the era's famous (or, taking a different point of view, infamous) characters. This just merely brings attention to the basic fact that the society most of them existed in was one (relatively, in comparison to that we now endure, small) city upon seven minor hills about a common market space in a valley on the banks of the Tiber. (And that most of the era's most famous characters lived on one, the Palatine, of those hills - go to Rome and see how small that area was.)
He also gives us, in Gordianus, a reliable observer upon events pivotal to the times. From the cursory references left to us he is able to provide fully descriptive narratives of both events and personalities - in such a fashion you feel you are standing just behind Gordianus as he observes them. From the heat of a meeting witnessed upon a barren shore to the perhaps one of the most famous first meetings history (and literature) have passed down.
Both these attributes are carried off with Saylor's usual style to such a degree that you can almost fail to notice that the main crime that needs investigating appears where it does (yet, when it does, it seems as equally almost predestined that it should - especially when you realize the clues were all there). In addition he provides a welcome realistic depiction of the much mythologized Cleopatra - that of a calculating political survivor in an oriental court, capable of turning any opportunity immediately to her advantage. (As is mentioned in both this and a previous novel in the series (in a conversation with the possibly as equally mythologized Marc Antony), a 'female Caesar'.) Also we get as fully developed portrayals of her brother Ptolemy and his mentors. With Ptolemy we are given both a political player equal to his elder sister and an adolescent in search of a role model in Caesar - a relationship that Saylor uses to expand on that which we know between him and Gordianus' estranged son Meto.
If there are two weaknesses with the plot they are are excusable. The first is the mechanism used to divert the ever enigmatic Bethesda (a character in Gordianus' adventures (other than the short stories) whose presence could be, at times, intolerable beyond the supporting - from the originally encountered slave cum concubine through to Palatine matriarch) from the main plot. In itself it can be excused on the grounds she does provide the necessary premise for bringing Gordianus to Egypt but needs to be absent for the plot (though, in itself, this does contribute a little too much of the melancholy his character 'enjoys'). The second is the change in Gordianus' son Meto. It comes too jarring upon previous experience; especially as its causes appear to be further back in his own adventures than previous encounters with the character have given.
Despite these, 'The Judgment of Caesar' provides a story that provides entertainment both for those versed with the characters and the times and those, since there is sufficient explanation of the background, picking it up as a detective story. A book as equally enjoyable in a single sitting as read in snippets. The only fear is, as he is now in his sixties, that we will not get to enjoy too many more of Gordianus' adventures (though students of the period will know that those years he must have left provide ample opportunity for him to both observe and get involved with; Saylor warns us "Beware the Ides of March!").
Sit on your terrace or recline on your couch and slip back to two millennium presented, without prejudice, as fresh as today.
Mr. Saylor's Gordianus the Finder is starting to run Falco very close for top sleuth in the Roman crime fighters (although he is from the 1st century BC). It is very difficult to fault these books and this is one of the best yet.
This one features Caesar and the fight for the throne of Egypt between brother and sister. Of course Gordianus becomes embroiled in the plot and the story keeps the reader interested throughout the book. Saylor has the ability to weave a good plot and make it believable for the reader.
For those new to these books, I commend them to you. For avid readers I say on your behalf, keep them coming Steven.
on 13 November 2014
This story takes Gordianus and Bethesda back to where it all started for them - to Egypt. Bethesda is ill, and thinks that returning to her home will allow her to recover. Many twists and turns follow, and Gordianus finds himself at the centre of things as Caeser arrives to try and sort out the civil war between Ptolemy and Cleopatra. We all know the bare bones of what happened, but Saylor weaves his story well around the known facts, and keeps us interested throughout.
on 1 January 2014
The finder and his wife, Bethesda have gone to Egypt so Bethesda can bathe in the sacred waters of the Nile, hoping
they will cure, her illness.
But things do not go as planned.
Gordianus the Finder is called to prove the innocence of the son he disowned and in doing so, loses track of his wife.
All of Steven Saylor Gordianus books are Highly Recommended.
on 3 December 2012
Wow.... did I have to jump through hoops to read the last adventures of Gordianus!
No Non US distribution on Kindle ... I almost bought it in iBook....
As usual a great historical page turner with the murder-mystery thrown in.
A little sad, we say good bye early to new friends, but we do get to see how the post-death? reunion with his oldest companion goes. Gordianus is certainly no spring chicken anymore, then neither are his contemporaries.
on 5 January 2005
I am a huge Steven Saylor/Gordianus fan and love the mix of murder mystery within the historical context. For me, this book was not quite the match of, say, Roman Blood because the mystery element was not such a major part of this book. That said, I enjoyed it enormously and look forward to the next ...
This is the 11th in the Gordianus series and a welcome return for me over two years after reading the previous one. This is set entirely in Alexandria in Egypt which Gordianus is visiting as his wife Bethesda wants to bathe in the Nile to cure herself of a wasting sickness. Gordianus manages to be present at many key historical events such as the murder of Pompey, the unveiling of his head in the presence of Caesar and Cleopatra's smuggling herself into Caesar's presence in the famous rolled up carpet. The whodunnit aspect only takes up the final third of the book. There are a couple of key dramatic developments in Gordianus's family life that I won't give spoilers for here, but they are as eclectic and as likeable a group of characters as ever. I really enjoyed this one and there will definitely be a much shorter gap between this and my reading the next one.