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4.5 out of 5 stars
The October Horse (Masters of Rome)
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VINE VOICEon 2 January 2018
After a gap of some months in reading this series I return to a Rome changed dramatically by the successes of Julius Caesar. Caesar has but to finish off the Republican Optimates, set about tapping the wealth of Egypt and reforming this that and the other. This volume takes us to the defeat of the Optimates, through the Ides of March out to the defeat of the Liberators. As ever, you'll suffer a bit if you forget who Spurious Sphincter was but the author jollies us along very well, and I must confess I'd lost my way in Rome by this volume. The biggest upside was the careful receation of how Brutus and Cassius fought their last campaign, rather than dwelling on the Caesarians. A great pleasure to read.
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on 18 July 2017
Excellent blend of accurate history and fiction, as usual with this prolific author.
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on 28 January 2003
I enjoyed this volume as much as the others in the series, and shall certainly go back and reread the whole thing now it is complete.
McCollough offers some interesting explanations for events which are consistent with character and history but different from the standard ones - for example her explanation of the character and motivations of Cleopatra and her relationship with Caesar. I enjoyed her portrayal of Octavian, although I felt it lacked the depth of come of her other work, perhaps because she knew she wouldn't be following him.
Although I cannot blame her for calling a halt here (after all, to get into the Octavian/Augustus saga would be a commitment to another 6 books) I am sorry, since Augustus interests me more than Caesar as a historical character, and I would have liked to have read her interpretation of some of his later behaviours. .
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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.
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on 11 May 2017
Imagine a horse being decapitated in its moment of glory
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VINE VOICEon 24 October 2003
So, here it is. Must be nearly 10 years since I read 'The First Man in Rome' and so started on Colleen McCullough's 'Masters of Rome' series. Now, at last, the whole lot can be viewed as one.

This one follows right after the last, there's no annoying 5 year gap like there was between 'Caesar's Women' and 'Caesar' If you know anything about history (or even if you don't) you probably know a lot about what's going to happen. This book takes up the rest of the Civil War and - surprisingly - goes on past Caesar's famous assassination and onto the end of the second civil war with the battle of Phillipi, with Octavian/Augustus taking his first steps along the road that would make him the first emperor. I suppose McCullough had to add a postscript, she couldn't just end with the death of Caesar - after all, she began it before the birth of Caesar.

So what to say? Well, it's a worthy climax. The book is as good as any of its predecessors and also shares its faults. The main one, and this has been inherent throughout the series, is McCullough's hero-worship of Caesar (which seems to rub off onto Augustus by association) Caesar can do no wrong, in this book, hence Marcus Antonius' atrocities committed in Rome were all down to him, not Caesar. So she makes Antonius a deadly enemy of Caesar, a little strange considering how much power and responsibility Caesar entrusted him with. Not that I'm doubting that there was friction and rivalry between the two but I think she exaggerates in order to whitewash Caesar. And, likewise, she never gives any serious consideration to the idea that Caesar wanted to be emperor, even after the Civil War is over and Caesar is emperor in all but name, she has him going on about how he'd been forced to do this and how he'd have preferred to have just become one of the 'Grand Old Men' of the Senate but his enemies FORCED him to march on Rome and seize more power than any man in the world had known up until then. Poor guy! The incidents in which Caesar acted as though he'd like to be an emperor are all dismissed by McCullough as machinations of Marcus Antonius or (in one case) Caesar's health problems (she does something similar with Augustus, giving him asthma to explain why he ran away at the battle of Phillipi. She says she's as likely to be right as wrong seeing as ancient sources didn't know too much about health, but I think someone would have mentioned Augustus having asthma.)

And, as in its predecessor, you have the revolting spectacle of McCullough 'justifying' Caesar's atrocities in Spain, in terms of Realpolitik again. I am aware that people had different values 2,000 years ago, but a massacre is a massacre and even Thucydides could see that, 2,300 years ago. McCullough's 'justifications of this are as convincing as Slobodan Milosovich's or Ariel Sharon's and just as repellent.

That aside, though, this is a good end to the series. And the series as a whole is worth reading.
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TOP 1000 REVIEWERon 9 May 2011
With the close of this novel, which was supposed to be the last in the series, I feel as if I have lost a good and trusty friend. In a word, these have been the best and most fascinating continuous historical novels that I have ever read. As with friendships, of course, they age: there is no question that McCullough has said her piece and done her thing and this is where it should stop: while the section leading to Caesar's assassination is wonderful, the aftermath in which the assassins are hunted down systematically or simply self-destruct has the feel of too abrupt a summary. Perhaps after a certain time her imagination will replenish itself, and a new series will follow.

At the heart of the novel, in my reading, Caesar has taken on too much even for a man of universal genius (military, political, rhetorical, and in governance) and is exhausted and almost tired of living. As he deals defeat after defeat to his old foes, whom he hopes will survive to offer him an opposition that can strengthen him and help him refine his ideas, his vision for Roman society remains unsurpassed and more far-seeing than everyone else. He is also searching for an heir and communing with (the ugly) Cleopatra, who comes off as an intelligent, if rather conventional and brutal autocrat. He challenges her to think more broadly of the future, and attempts to transmit much of his vision to her in the few spare moments they have to talk.

Then, as Caesar returns to the wreckage and chaos of a Rome rent by decades of civil war, he confronts the mismanagement of less gifted and visionary men in a towering rage, which makes him take on the enormous task of setting the capital back on its feet and creates new enemies. He is disappointed that no one of the stature of Cicero or his old Boni adversaries emerges. In McCulloughs' view, Caesar is the last great republican of a growing empire that requires autocracy to function with its immense size and complexity.

Caesar's heir, who uses his inherited "godhead" with ruthless shrewdness, is a very different man: he is as cold-blooded as a cobra, vengeful rather than offering clemency to his Roman foes, and full of patient guile ("he doesn't need to die yet"); he is sickly rather than robust, and while handsome lacks the sexual magnetism of his mentor. While hardly a military genius like Caesar, he grows into political manipulation and subterfuge at an extremely tender age, which remains unexplained. The portrait is truly fascinating, a taste of the new system of government to come, but it is here that McCulloughs' energy begins to wane. The reader, at least in my case, cannot understand what he is planning and why he acts as he does in many instances. Thus, it is just the lightest taste of what this man will become and do.

There are a number of personalities that continue to develop in this volume, most of whom meet their fates with all of the brutality one might expect from a semi-savage society. The reader sees Cicero, Brutus, Mark Anthony, Cato and many many others in novel and wonderful interpretations, all of it stimulating the desire to learn more. Sometimes melodramatic, McCullough has done her homework with the historical details and it is a feast for the imagination. While the finishing chapters are too brief, the writing remains solid, if unexceptional. This is not high literature, but very very good storytelling. Finally, through this coverage of politics and personalities, McCulloguh brilliantly succeeds in portraying Roman society in great depth, from the intrigues of the Forum to the mismanaged and brutalised subjects in the provinces.

I will miss this series very much, but it was time for it to end, at least for now. Warmly recommended.
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on 12 January 2016
I like this book a lot. I only gave it 4 stars because i enjoyed the previous books in the series even more. That's only because with the previous books in the series there is more interplay between so many different characters, whereas The October Horse by virtue of where the story is at focuses more on one main character at a time. Again, that doesn't make this book bad - just that the earlier ones in the series set a very high standard.

If you have an interest in ancient Rome or in Caesar himself, and you don't want to read 'dry' history but an incredibly enjoyable recreating of ancient Rome (and accurate), then McCullough's Masters of Rome series is definitely for you.
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on 16 August 2011
The October Horse was a long time coming from the proflic pen of McCullough's acknowledged genius, after 'Caesar' in 1997. The Masters of Rome series (a fictional history of the fall of the Roman Republic) has firmly placed the author at the very apex of historical fiction and (with the equally fine 'Anthony and Cleopatra') it will be considerable time before anyone produces anything better.
This book in the series picks up where `Caesar' left off with the ignominious death of Pompeius Magnus, with Caesar's arrival in Alexandria. There are X items that anyone with rudimentary knowledge of the period will anticipate to come in the novel, but the questions that remain to be answered is exactly how McCullough will deal with them. Namely, Caesar and Cleopatra, Caesar's murder, Antony and Cleopatra, and Octavian. Her answer is to focus on the increasing irreconcilability of Caesar's clemency and practical and political necessity. Caesar's failure to understand this, aptly commented on by Octavian as his only flaw being the dismissal of his lictors, may be due to the increasing weariness as he realises the task of empire management is far greater than one man.
The plot is no less than the shaking events that spanned Rome's demise as a republic and rebirth as an empire and I will not move into the details, suffice it to say the historical accuracy and chronology is remarkable.
The only minor issue is with character depiction. If the reader has studied the period in any depth then this is inevitable. Cicero's pusillanimous prevarication raises an eyebrow, given his intellectual lauding, however, the conceited undercurrents are excellent. Cleopatra's summation by Servilia as good at government without an ounce of commonsense seems a trifle harsh. Anthony's excesses have been hugely exaggerated. However, as there must be disagreements over character presentation, so must there be agreement and McCullough's depiction of Octavius, Agrippa, most of the Republican boni (including Brutus and Porcia) and, most of all, Cato is brilliant. Cato's unassuming anabasis counters Xenephon's in its stark simplicity and the sympathy the overtly stoical epitome of morality generates is remarkable.
So, we follow Caesar to his inexorable conclusion and discover McCullough doesn't have him utter the famous Shakespearian line, to his genius in selecting Gaius Octavius and the inevitable race towards Augustus' founding of the Principate.
This 2002 book was a long time coming and the wait has proven its worth just as the next five years was worth the publication of Anthony and Cleopatra in 2007. The entire Masters of Rome series is a magnificent exercise in historical fiction writing at its finest, and it is only a pity there is no intent to move onwards through the Empire. It stands out at the pinnacle of the genre (and will do for many years to come) and one any aspiring historical fiction author should read. This is a set of books that is highly recommended and if six stars were available, it would get it.
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on 9 March 2010
Having ploughed my way through the first 5 books in the Masters of Rome series I couldn't not read this one. However the writing style is noticeably different from the earlier books - and not in a good way. It is a little stilted and reads as though the writer is trying too hard to make it sound 'of the period' which I didn't notice in the previous books. However, the story is just as engaging and moves along at a swift pace. It's a shame we all know how it ends but overall a good book (though in my opinion not as good as the rest of the series).
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