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A DRAMATIC, EXHILARATING READ
on 23 June 2011
Cornelia and Marcella are the sisters, Lollia and Diana their cousins - members of Rome's wealthiest families. All will be put to the test in 69 A.D., Year of the Four Emperors.
The novel traces momentous events as seen through their eyes. Life in the bustling capital is graphically depicted: good times with Games and Feasts (menus mind-boggling, vomitorium needed); bad times of chaos caused by invading armies and rioting plebs.
There is much to applaud. Admittedly all those names are initially a bit of a stumbling block (the list of main characters helpful), but one is soon swept along by the tale of ever-changing fortunes amidst the havoc. There is more humour than expected, patricians so desperate to be on the winning side but without a clue which side it will be.
Characterization is strong. Diana is fun, interested only in horses. By twenty, Lollia has five times been married - but never to the one true love of her life. Inky fingered Marcella discovers that recording history is not a patch on actually manipulating it. Then there is Cornelia, to whom one warms - yearning for children it seems she can never have.
Three of the Emperors also come over vividly. (The fourth only arrives at the end of the book). Calba - elderly and sour, learning the hard way he should have paid the Praetorian Guard. Otho - outwardly a charmer and master of spin. Vitellius - so gross that sixty courses at one sitting present no challenge. (A love of horses partially redeems him as far as Diana is concerned.)
Some of the action is a little OTT, but it does not reduce the overall enjoyment. Personal highlight? That spectacular chariot race is hard to beat - a legend in the making as the crowd roars its approval.
A test of such novels is how involved one becomes, how caught up in the action, how caring about the participants. Many will relish what they find here - becoming totally immersed in the passion, intrigue and turbulence.