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Compelling for all the wrong reasons
on 18 October 2010
Knowing full well that Igguldens' retelling of Gaius Julius Caesar's life owes very little to actual historical fact and much to pure fantasy I set about this third installment curious to know precisely what period had gone through the mangle this time and what the result would be. Apart from the wincing at the total exclusion of Marcus Tullius Cicero's finest hour in 63BC in stopping the Catiline Conspiracy (Julius gets the credit here and it's brought forward 4 years as well - never mind), the blatant chronological reversal of Clodius' death in 52 and the invasion of Britain in 55/54, and the casual use of Cabera to act as the soothsayer for the infamous Ides of March quote nearly a decade ahead of reality... I was cautiously optimistic by page 200 or so.
The third in Iggulden's Emperor series opens with our young praetor with his Tenth legion in Spain with Brutus and his extraordinarii cavalry. Dark, moody and brooding the mix is swiftly stirred as Brutus' courtesan mother, Servilia, turns up with three girls to make a handsome profit and catch Julius' eye. From there he swiftly returns to the political mire of Rome, coming up against both Gnaeus Pompeius Magnus and Marcus Licinius Crassus as he seeks to establish himself in Rome and take his first consulship. Much of this is given over in two very lengthy episodes - the first his quelling of the Crassus backed Catiline conspiracy, the second over a gladiator contest for Marcus Brutus to be First Sword in Rome. Once this has been achieved Caesar hotfoots it to Gaul with his comrades in tow wearing silver armour to start conquering the land. Battles against the Averni, a quick trip to Britain and back and the infamous siege of Alesia are all dealt with in a thrilling loose style with an interim trip back to Rome by Brutus to get involved with Caesar's daughter, Julia, and quell the infamous street gangs of Milo and Clodius whilst Julius' relationship with Servilia is explored.
I confess I find my reaction to Iggulden is to sigh deeply. The historical purist in me reads on in horrified fascination as to what's going to happen next in this historical alternative history, but it is somewhat compelling. I know many reviewers will say that historical accuracy is not what Iggulden's about but it's taken too far. You can get away with the odd explained change for dramatic purposes but it's so wrong it really does detract from what could be so good.
History aside I find this the weakest of the three as it is somewhat directionless and the chacterisation fill between major episodes is creating a more of a sense of gallivanting adventurers rather than mature personages. Plot and characterisation is all too wooden and I find myself disliking Julius more and more. If it wasn't for the exceptionally brief reference to Caesar's lamentation that he is older than Alexander was when he conquered the world right at the start (and you knew little of Caesar's history) you'd have to ask what his motive for any of his actions was in this novel.
What saves the entire series is that Iggulden CAN tell a story.
So utterly compelling, but, unfortunately, for all the wrong reasons. I'll have to complete the series but I know the same complaints will probably be there after the next one.