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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 7 August 2014
Britannia, AD 45. Sabinus, elder brother of Vespasian, has been snatched by the druids, betrayed by spy Alienus, suspended naked and filthy in a cage until his brother should come to his rescue at which time both men will be sacrificed to the goddess Sullis. Such is the plan but Vespasian is a soldier and officer who has learned his craft, forming meaningful alliances with local chieftains, able to take those harsh decisions which can save an army at the cost of the valued few. But in the druids, Vespasian's might and determination, a mirror of Rome, comes against an enemy of a type he's not encountered before. The battle will take all of his cunning and take Vespasian to the very edge of what he can endure.

Rome, though, is no safer a place. These are the days of Claudius, an emperor only slightly less mad than the man who preceded him and the one who is to follow. The dribbling fool is in the thrall of his captivating wife, Messalina, a woman notorious to all (but her husband) for her voracious sexual appetites. Rome is ruled in all but name by Claudius's three freedmen but even they cannot compete with the reach of the empress. A plan is hatched, Vespasian is caught in the middle. Having proven himself in the field, Vespasian must now use every political skill he can muster to bring down Messalina while all the time securing his family - and his wealth - for the future that has been prophesied.

Masters of Rome is the fifth novel in Robert Fabbri's superb series chronicling the life and career of Vespasian, a man who against all odds survived Rome's most infamous emperors only to ascend - somehow, miraculously - to the purple himself. Vespasian is now in his late thirties, a married man with two children, albeit children he barely knows, a difficult wife and a tolerant mistress. The events of previous novels continue to exert their influence, leaving debts that Vespasian must continue to pay, but the price is now exceedingly rich, demonstrating yet another stage in Vespasian's transformation. There is a strong sense that Vespasian is conscious throughout of the damage that his ambition is doing to his soul and this is one of the major themes of the novel - in Masters of Rome we are given a glimpse into the religion that determined the Roman character, walking hand in hand with its materialism and greed, and the spirituality with which it was assaulted. There is a wave of fear that courses through the pages of this novel, spreading from the groves and springs of Britannia to the temples and gardens of empire. Vespasian feels it and, reading it, so do we. Vespasian must also learn a stark lesson about the Rome that he serves - the ideal is now becoming the personal.

The last novel in the series, Rome's Fallen Eagle, is a marvellous book and was my favourite of the sequence and one of my top reads of 2013. Masters of Rome, though, surpasses it. This is an achievement indeed. As with the previous novel, the book is divided into two, but here the two are unified by what they reveal about the character of Vespasian and the world he must face and conquer. Liberties are taken with history but they serve a dramatic purpose and the result is a novel that is never less than harrowing, powerful and unputdownable until the very last page.

Every one has their own idea about what the druids would have been like and Robert Fabbri plays with this brilliantly, tapping into the fears of Rome and projecting it onto the page. The novel becomes imbued with superstition, dread and evil. Anything can happen and it does. What matters is that Vespasian must believe it. But this is not the only religion Vespasian encounters in Britannia - there is the stuff of legend here as well as the origins of Christianity.

Back in Rome, Vespasian encounters a state of affairs no less horrifying than the druids as decent men are destroyed at the whim of an insatiable harlot and her pitiful husband. Vengeance becomes a key theme and it's no less potent or satisfying when exercised against empresses than betrayers.

Each of the Vespasian series could be read as standalone novels, each contains unobtrusive clues to previous events, but to read one without the others would be such a shame. Robert Fabbri is a superb storyteller. He doesn't shy from depicting violence or venality, far from it, but it always serves the purpose of the story. Fact and fiction mix well in these pages, the goal always being to show the progression of one of Rome's most remarkable men - Vespasian - while presenting the extraordinary world in which he moved. Masters of Rome is also, I would argue, the most exciting of the series. Nothing was going to get between me and the last 150 pages. I'm very grateful for the review copy.
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on 9 August 2014
Another cracking read in this excellent and exciting series - a real page-turner. The first half is bloody battles in Britain, with some really scary Druids (probably accurate), the second almost equally bloody politics in the Rome of Claudius, as Vespasian moves from the simple certainties of army life to the murky and disturbing role of climbing the greasy pole for position and influence. Each was fascinating and detailed, and largely factual. I greatly look forward to future volumes.
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on 24 September 2014
Great read, kept me enticed from start to finish.
I think the cold dread from the Druids was slightly over dramatic and took away a lot from the flow of the book. But I have read this series from book one twice over and I am finding it one of the best reads out there for roman fiction.
I look forward to your next book.
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on 27 May 2015
Robert Fabbri's fictional account of the life of Vespasion continues with episode five. Vespasion is in Britannia, gradually extending Roman control, either by negotiation or force. His brother is captured, and used as bait to draw Vespasian into a trap. The first half of the book deals with this storyline, and follows the adventures of the brothers; there is a fair amount of the supernatural here, with Druids, spirits and even early Christianity. I see from other reviews that some readers have found this a problem, but in a world where the natural and the supernatural were accepted parts of everyday life, i don't really see the issue. This is, after all, fiction.
The second part of the book sees Vespasian back in Rome, and heavily involved in the machinations of the Emperor's three powerful freedmen, and their battle to remove Messalina, the Empress. I still baulk at the depiction of Claudius in all current novels as a bumbling idiot, but it seems I am alone in this, so I will complain no more!
Overall, this is a worthy addition to the series. Although you know the outcome of the major historical events, the author does a good job of weaving them around Vespasian's story, and it is interesting to work out which of his actions are 'real' and which are part of the fiction. I think the author does well to make the two seamless. I shall be looking forward to the next episode.
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TOP 100 REVIEWERon 17 August 2014
This is volume five in the « Vespasian series ». I thoroughly enjoyed the four previous volumes and could not let go of any of them before finishing them. However, I had a few problems with this one, which I did not enjoy quite as much as the previous episodes.
One reason for being slightly disappointed is a certain lack of originality for which the author cannot really be blamed, given his choice of topics. Essentially this episode and its author come after similar books from Manda Scott and Simon Scarrow so there is a sense of “dejà vu” that creeps up, with similar stories about the Romans fighting in Britain, and having a rather hard time of it, and the intrigues and plots in Rome.

I was interested by the mystique pieces about the druids although I could not help feeling that the author had somewhat caricatured them into murderous “arch-villains”. I also felt that the ways in which some of their gods were depicted as lesser demons that were servants of the Son of the Morning (I will not give his other name to avoid spoilers) was not quite convincing. The author does make an interesting use of the legend of Joseph of Arithmatea, which in fact goes back to the 12th century, is not part of the Scriptures and according to which he took refuge in Britain, together with the Grail, and with some other very “special” refugees, which I will also not name to avoid spoilers.

To be fair, however, the rather ghastly picture of the Druids could be explained not only by the author’s creative license but also because of his Roman viewpoint, since his hero is Vespasian. Precious little is really known about the druids, and most of it is either through unflattering and presumably biased Roman written sources or through archaeology. Both seem to confirm, however, that they did practice human sacrifices to their gods, at least occasionally, but then so did many others during the Iron Age, including the Romans, with the original gladiatorial games “starring” prisoners of war that were made to fight against each other to the death being originally a form of human sacrifice.

Regarding the historical context, the first part of the book deals with Vespasian’s campaigns in Britain as the legate of the Second Legion Augusta. His role in subduing the south western part of the island by storming the Britons’ hill forts one after the other is very well described: a series of hard but victorious fights with Roman discipline and siege warfare always getting the better over the natives’ courage. Whether Caracatus was really opposed to Vespasian is more doubtful, however, since he seems to have been leading the Welsh tribes and facing Aulus Plautius in the north-west. Even if part of the author’s creative license, Robert Fabbri does nevertheless show rather well – as both Scarrow and Scott did in their own books - that the Romans did not all have it their way and that it was no walk over.

Also well shown is the fact that Roman legates, but also their tribunes, centurions and even the soldiers to a lesser extent, could expect to enrich themselves during such conquests and that the main way to achieve this was through the slave trade. This had happened in just about every victorious war that Rome had fought under the Republic and it continued during the Empire at least for the first couple of centuries. It was part and parcel of the Roman way of making war, with Roman commanders seeking fame and glory, but also spoils and captives that would enrich them.

The second part of the book is about the power fights and intrigues in Rome between the Emperor’s three main freedmen who governed the Empire in his name and Messalina, the Empress, right up to the downfall of the latter. Here also, the author has mostly kept to the “known facts”, meaning that he has followed the sources. This is even the case for Messalina’s outrageous behaviours although whether these sources really told the entire truth or exaggerated is, however, another story, and where he has not, he has mentioned it in his historical note and has mainly sought to put his hero at the centre of events. The attitudes and behaviours of the Senators – a mixture of fear for their lives and fortunes and sycophancy - are well shown, as such behaviour was quite literally vital and commonplace, including the story’s hero, as shown in the book

There are however a number of instance where the author’s license and “creativity” went a bit too far (in my view, of course), and makes parts of the story somewhat incredible.

Sabinus, Vespasian’s brother, does not seem to have ever exercised a senior military command in Britain and it would be very unlikely for any Emperor or any of his freedmen to send two brothers to the same front at the same time. I am not even this ever happened during the whole of the Empire’s history. Another piece which is hard to believe – to put it mildly - is having a Roman general rushing of almost on his own to gather intelligence about the whereabouts of his missing brother in the middle of a battle. A third piece that did not quite work for me was the depiction of Emperor Claudius as an utter drooling fool who was largely if not entirely unaware of his wife’s excessive behaviours. In fact, the author does not seem quite convinced by this himself and hints, at times, that Claudius may have known more than he cared to admit but preferred to turn a blind eye, partly because he may have been in love but also perhaps mostly because the scandal would show him up very badly. Another piece which is very difficult to believe is the final apparition of the Druids bent on settling scores with Vespasian and his brother, although here again, I will stop to avoid spoilers. Four stars.
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on 5 October 2014
What's not to like about the vespasian series. Always a cross between adventure and life in Rome 2000 years ago. I only wish I had half the imagination to be able to write something like this. Mr fabbri must be pretty well connected with some good historians as his attention to detail is second to none.
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on 13 March 2015
Vespasian certainly keeps busy doesn't he? Fighting his way through Britannia, knee deep in blood and anti-Roman local tribes, he finds time to rescue his brother Sabinus from the druids who eventually capture him and his unfortunate companions for a ritual sacrifice. Lucky to escape in one piece he returns to Rome and finds himself in as much danger from Messalina, the scheming wife of Claudius, and her minions. I thought the power of the druids to destroy their enemies came across as a bit Sci-Fi rather than historical fiction but apart from that the story raced along from one crisis to another.
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on 23 November 2015
These books are great. I love Pullo as a character and the plot is well paced and nicely written in my opinion. I've savioured this whole series and just like the way he keeps the action coming at nicely regular intervals without being too much and the politics and intrigue mix it all up to be a great read, with a light sprinkling of humour like a nicely seasoned dish.

Not much of a clue regarding the historical accuracy, but for me reading novels is mostly about the wiling suspense of disbelief where needed, so wouldn't let it spoil my fun.
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on 27 September 2014
Must admit I do prefer more action in books than political intrigue but the plot was fast paced and will definitely see out the series...
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on 4 April 2015
I have now read the first five books in this series and they are very good. The author mixes fact and fiction in a very believable way and keeps you wondering what is coming next as the characters plot and scheme against each other. This has really brought Ancient Rome alive to me in a way that history lessons at school never did. My only gripe is that I now want buy the last book in the series and the price has suddenly doubled! Mmmmmm. Not good practise I feel.
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