Top critical review
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on 14 August 2013
Having read the excellent 'First Man in Rome' I was highly excited for the coming clash between Marius and Sulla.
However, the few faults of the first book are exacerbated here and really make for a turgid and painful read.
Firstly, whilst the use of many perspectives was a strength in the first book, here it just takes away from the central narrative to the point where I'm not even sure what the central narrative was. I chose to read this book mainly because I was interested in Sulla and Marius, two men who do not feature greatly in literature. I do not want to read about in such length about people like Drusus, Caepios and Aurelias.
Whilst this somewhat benefited the main story in the first book, here it is just excruciatingly frustrating. The narrative meanders for sometimes 20 pages at a time about inanities when it could be furthering the story. It detracts from the main characters and I found it made the whole book a convoluted and unnecessarily long affair.
Secondly, similiar to the above point, I also found the letters sent by Rutilius Rufus extremely long and boring. As a plot device to tell us what is happening in Rome when the characters are away it is a sound idea, but his prose is incredibly frustrating, I share Marius' consternation in reading his letters. This, to the authors credit is probably what she intended to do, as Rutilius considered himself a man of purple letters, but it is still very boring to read when you want the story to advance, and it constantly bogs down in pointless passages.
Thirdly, whereas I was astounded by her literary skill in the first book, I felt that in this book, she falls prey to all the tired cliches used by numerous sub-standard 'authors' of Roman fiction. One notable example of this is her depiction of Gaius Julius Caesar. When he is first introduced, he is only 22 months old, yet she waxes lyrical already about his precociousness and intelligence to the point where the whole thing becomes farcical.
It is a perfect example of letting hindsight and admiration for a historical figure skewer her writing. Whilst we obviously expect to read about him and his abilities in a admiring way, I do not expect to be reading about a child prodigy, already portrayed as more intelligent than all the other characters in the book at two years old!
All in all, the book is painfully slow to move, OVERLY descriptive, features too many characters points of view, and commits the unforgivable crime of keeping banal characters in purely because she wants to use them in the sequels. This is akin to ruining the proper conclusion of a film, just because you want to make it clear that you are making a sequel.
I feel let down because I was so very excited to read about the falling out between Marius and Sulla,and the titanic clash that followed, but felt robbed of this experience.