Top critical review
A book of two halves
on 21 February 2007
After the brilliance and sheer storytelling magnificence of the previous five books, this one comes as a disappointment. Caesar is getting older and while he's reached the pinnacle of Roman politics, he finds himself disillusioned with what that means, frequently frustrated and increasingly short-tempered. And as her hero runs out of energy so, too, does McCullough.
For me, this is a book of two parts: the run up to Caesar's assassination, and then the aftermath. McCullough who's always had a romantic view of Caesar, now switches her allegiances to Octavia (later Augustus) and herein lies one of the problems: for while Caesar does genuinely tower over the period and combine intelligence, charm, ruthless focus and wit, Octavian is a much smaller man in lots of ways, and one whose brutal propaganda has been increasingly deconstructed in academic history - I guess what I'm saying is that I couldn't follow McCullough's emotional trajectory and abandon Caesar for Octavia. This left the book decentred for me.
Stylistically, too, this flags: we're increasingly 'told' things instead of them being dramatised as was the case in the earlier books. So, this is still worth reading: and if you've been following the series, it's a must - but it lacks the energy and perhaps the emotional commitment of the earlier books.