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A Worthy Alternative To 'I, Claudius',
This review is from: Rome's Executioner: VESPASIAN II (Kindle Edition)
The modern crop of Roman Historical fiction writers fall into two categories. First are those that just research the area they are writing about, and never really leave behind the modern world. Then there is the second group of writers who live and breathe their chosen period. Robert Fabbri's historical knowledge is astounding, whether it's military history, politics, philosophy or Mithras, he manages to blow me away.
For those who have never come across Robert Graves' 'I, Claudius', Fabbri presents the perfect alternative [or even better, introduction.] Obviously, this is the boys-own version [and quite frankly Graves is far more brutal and shocking]. I did however begin to feel that Fabbri was starting to push against credibility, in asking me to believe that Vespasian was privy to every important event in Rome.
As the next book is titled 'The False God of Rome,' Fabbri is turning his attention to the blood-soaked reign of Caligula. My only fear is that Fabbri is going to suggest that the assassination is a plot contrived between Claudius and the Praetorian Guard. Which would be a dis-service to the Imperial Guard's nature and desperation to ensure their position by Emperor-making.
I would also like to defend Fabbri's characterisation of Vespasian. Contempory sources describe Vespasian as 'dull but reliable man.' Vespasian certainly wasn't a Marcus Aurelius or Julius Caesar, Fabbri can only use the material provided. I was more bothered by the characterisation of Rhoteces, who whenever he appeared on the page, I kept picturing Getafix from the Asterix comics. My other problem is Caenis. In Book I she seemed to have great potential, but after this book I'm very disappointed. It would seem that in Book I she was just there to be kidnapped, so that the hero can rescue the damsel-in-distress. And now in Book II her sole function is for Vespasian to get some girl-action, and for her to gaze admiringly at her big, strong hero. There was so much potential here, she should have been haunted by the fact that her lover would [very soon] be married off to a suitable Roman woman, and Fabbri has failed to tease out the tension between her slave status/identity and Vespasian as a Citizen.
I have to admit, I nearly did abandon the book early on. The first act concentrates on characters talking about how hard it will be to kidnap Rhoteces, then Fabbri chickens-out and Rhoteces is not captured 'on-screen', and not by Vespasian or Sabinus. I then thought 'not again,' when the heck is Vespasian going to get his hands dirty. Fabbri did begin to redeem himself by the end, but he's got a long way to go before convincing me that this Vespasian will grow into the conqueror of Britain, and Sacker of Jerusalem who stabilized the Empire. I actually was hoping Tiberius would fling Magnus into the sea, so Vespasian would be forced to solve his own problems. The only reason I kept reading was that I love 'I, Claudius' and wanted to see how Fabbri handled Sejanus' downfall. Which raises another problem in my mind, through the course of Vespasian's career Fabbri cannot maintain these boys-own antics, and Fabbri will have to turn more towards a political thriller. I will definitely read the next in the series, but Fabbri does need to up his game again.
On a final note, I read the hardback, and the copy-editor should be ashamed.
Of course, any reader who isn't familiar with Graves' 'I, Claudius' I recommend either reading the books, or getting hold of the BBC serialisation.
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Initial post: 25 Jul 2012 19:09:10 BDT
I would also like to add a comment on the subject on Mithraism, having just read up on the subject. All the archaeology indicates that the Romans adopted the mystery cult c. AD50. So in retrospect, I have a hard time believing that Sabinus would have been a syndexioi.
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