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3.9 out of 5 stars
3.9 out of 5 stars
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on 22 May 2017
good read
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on 21 July 2017
love it
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on 27 April 2017
Wonderful read, typical of all Saylor books. May he continue writing, educating and entertaining us for many
years to come.
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on 1 August 2017
Excellent read
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on 15 December 2010
This is simply awful.

Let me be clear. I have been a longtime fan of Steven Saylor. The first two thirds of his Roma sub Rosa series about Gordianus the Finder are brilliant.

My problem with Saylor really began with Roma, the first in his pompous new series about ancient Rome, and really brings Empire to a halt. What seems to have happened is that Saylor has done huge amounts of research and feels the need to ensure everyone knows it. As a result the book - as far as I had to heart to read it anyway - is a long series of dialogues when a character can't just say what is happening - it has to be then explained in terms of what the history of the person/place/event is, what the colour of their clothes were - what the metaphysical or allegorical omens of the day were. All of which simply seems to say "Aren't I clever with what I know.." But you really just want to shout at the page "Get on with it".

Because Saylor's writing style is so ponderous and exasperating quite what the story is becomes meaningless. To his credit (hence two stars)he's trying to tell the story of ancient Rome from birth to death through one family line. But by now you just don't care. I'm saddened to say I couldn't finish this - and hope the charity shop at least makes some money from my misery.

If you want to read really classy stories about Rome read Robert Harris, or go back to Robert Graves and I Claudius. Give Saylor a very wide miss. Sorry.
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on 29 December 2012
Like others, I have been a great fan of Gordianus. Bringing to life some of Cicero's great forensic speeches was always a worthwhile project, and Saylor's execution was well-judged. I kind of half-enjoyed the more plodding Roma, because it dealt with little-visited periods of Roman history.
But Empire is a different matter. I found I wasn't learning much, because unlike the Gordianus series, or Lindsey Davis' Falco, where it's easy to tell the difference between the historical figures and the lowlifes who provide most of the narrative, here you have to know already that Pinarius senior is a historical figure, but (as far as I know) his descendants aren't. The dialogue is over-didactic and stilted. On the whole, not much fun.
But I stayed with it until page 93, when I found that the ancient family amulet, interpreted by Claudius as a winged phallus, is suddenly reinterpreted by the more radically-minded twin - in 41AD, less than a decade after the crucifixion - as the Christian cross 'on which our saviour, Jesus Christ, was killed' and which is thereby 'a holy symbol'. As any fule kno, the cross did not emerge distinctively as a Christian symbol for another century at least.
Sorry, Steven, I really can't be bothered with The Robe revisited. Save it for the US market.
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on 29 August 2012
Taylor has plagued this book with 'info dumping' that is overloading the reader with information that is either not necessary to the story or that reads like a page from a history book, a basic mistake for even amateur writers of historical fiction. Alas there seems to be little good historical fiction around these days, Taylor in fact is the lesser of two evils when we compare his writing to Conn Iggdulen's 'Emperor series' (at least Taylor has done his research and is historically accurate). But here principally is where he fails as a writer of fiction. The characters and events feel like they are merely there to relay the history of Rome or quote from the classical texts e.g "as my tutor Titus Livius once said - (copy and paste from an online source of Livy's history of Rome - end quote" applause from the people surrounding the character and a smug smile from Mr Taylor himself knowing he has used an actual historical text, a direct quotation into his work of fiction! How clever! How novel! How...dull once it is done over and over ad nauseum. Indeed we have the absurd situation where characters directly relay to one another, like actors in a play, information that the character already knows, breaking the illusion that this scene is real. For example one of the characters says to Lucius, "the plague that devastated Rome - the plague that killed your mother Chrystheme" as if the character could forget his own mother dying, or her name or the fact that Rome was currently being devastated by plague. Again in normal conversation characters relay the history of entire buildings and the city itself to other characters as if they were giving each other in-depth tours, "lets go to the baths of Agrippa, founded by Augustus's famous general, the baths look like this bla bla bla and were built bla bla or his temple called the Pantheon bla bla Ad Nauseum like interjection from another character - ah if only some future Emperor, maybe from Hispania, would rebuild it with a dome and then who knows in 2,000 years people might still visit it such as we are today...sly wink to the reader."
Well the whole book is pretty much like this, you may as well read directly from the sources - Suetonius, Cassius Dio etc than read this book, especially at over 600 pages long.
However it is not all bad the characterisation of some of the historical characters is quite good and accurate (though i will always see Claudius as Derek Jacobi) especially those not normally covered by novels i.e Vitellius. However the dialogue between some of these historical characters just feels wrong for example the conversation between Claudius and Tiberius just feels too...modern. I think the relationship between these two characters is shown more accurately and authentically in Robert Graves 'I Claudius' basically they have very little to do with each other as was in real life. I did enjoy the way the transition from Augustan semi-republican Rome to Nero's decadent, fawning to the Emperor, debauched Rome was portrayed, particularly showing how just one generation changed everything and I think it showed how the mind-set of the Romans changed from their Republican predecessors.
That is why I have given Taylor three stars instead of two or one; he is very historically accurate (although the elder Pinarius said Germania Superior was colonised like any other province with cities, roads etc which is untrue, a few legionary bases and mud tracks do not a colonised province make but that could be merely characteristic Roman arrogance so we can allow him this one). However his historically accuracy and research gets in the way of the story; far better to tell the story with the research as a backdrop mention what temple they go to, or who they pray to without giving the entire history of the building or ritual. Do not insult the intelligence of your readers, if they want to know more about a building or something they can look online or read the primary source or even have footnotes at the end of the novel if it is that vital to the story when a building a was built. Aside from this the characters are different, a hard thing to do when following a fictional family who have to be a witness to important scenes from Rome's history without actually changing it (though George McDonald accomplishes this in a much more smoother and better way in his 'Flashman' series). And they are interesting in their own ways so kudos for that. But if you want to read historically accurate, as well as gripping and enthralling fiction books set in Ancient Rome, your best bet is to read Robert Harris's 'Imperium' trilogy which is tremendously well researched but doesn't info dump on you. Caroline Lawrence's 'Roman Mysteries' series, though written for children, are not only historically accurate (aside from the fictional main characters) but they are interesting and captivating and teaches you about everyday Roman life but in a way that feels natural and not forced. And finally Robert Graves 'I Claudius' remains a timeless classic even if it is a bit too favourable to Claudius and the modern place names do jerk the narrative somewhat it still reads as a masterpiece.
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on 5 March 2014
First empressions are always best - perhaps I should not have reread this. Because what once seemed like a giant feat of imagination and creativity, seems after a while… well… lets just say the idea - journey through the years with the members of one family - is still great, but the things that weren’t bothering the first time, are unescapable now.

Like the exposition. There is less of it here than in “Roma”, but the characters are still having an unnatural amount of ‘as you know’ conversations. I suppose it’s because of the writer’s chosen style - following the Pinarii and seeing everything through their eyes.

There’s Lucius, an augur and a friend of Claudius, exiled to Egypt by Tiberius; there are his identical twin sons Titus and Kaeso, who had the misfortune of returning to Rome during the reign of Caligula, prospering under Claudius and befriending Nero. Oh, and one of them is a christian, so we get an added glimpse to the life of that hunted sect. I especially enjoyed the retelling of a trial that took place then, of a slave who murdered his master and the cruel traditions of the old Republic.

Another Lucius Pinarius, the son of Titus, survives through the Year of the Emperors, the golden age of Titus and the cruel years of Domitian.
It is he who makes an observation that under an absolute ruler, it does not matter if a person excels at war or politics, personal ambition is redundant or dangerous. Perhaps that’s why emperors like Caligula or Domitian ruled for years - there was no one strong and brave enough to challenge them.

Lucius’ son Marcus is a talented sculptor, who served under Trajan and Hadrian, creating architecture and works of art. I think I liked his story the most - no crazy emperors, no personal angst, just art and beauty.

Apart from the exposition, another thing that bothered me a bit was the modernisation of the emperors’ names. I suppose the author thought that if he said ‘Trianus’ or ‘Domitianus’, no one’ll know whom he means. But then, I just don’t like intentional dumbing-down in general.

I liked the previous book better but this is still a great source for information about the early Roman Empire for those who prefer historical fiction over works of non-fiction.
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on 10 September 2013
For those who like me greatly enjoyed the Gordianus stories and also care a lot about ancient Roman culture this novel was not a great experience. Saylor is knowledgeable but this is mostly gleaning from ancient gossip, laboriously trying to sample most aspects of a condensed history book. There are a few interesting touches, such as the various attitudes to Nero, but it is even less attractive than the preceding novel, Roma. If you want your - and Saylor's - Rome lively and engaging look for his stories Sub rosa. Epic is not his forte.
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TOP 500 REVIEWERon 25 July 2011
Is this the death of what was a really good series?
In the past its always been a bit ploddy and slow, but i always took that as part of the story, its not designed for pace its not swords and sandals type fiction.
But Empire...Gah! its just.... well so dreary it felt like i was being dragged through the plot kicking and screaming "no leave me alone, let me find a decent book" .
There is plenty of the usual research, but as other have noted, instead of letting you discover it i felt like i was being hit around the head with the text book by teacher for not knowing it.

This maybe my last for Saylor, the power has been waining... the empire may be dead Death to the emperor!

NOT recommended
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