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Okay, But Provides Only A Glancing Blow
on 22 January 2012
The Praetorian Guard is a rich, under-mined topic in historical fiction. It has a lot of potential, and so far has only has been briefly touched in the work of Robert Graves and Robert Fabbri.
I have only read a few of Scarrow's earlier books, and swore I would never touch another. However, a book around the Praetorian Guard was too tempting to resist. Scarrow's writing has certainly improved, but he suffers from covering a period that have been much better covered by Graves [I, Claudius] and Scott [The Emperor's Spy.]
Probably my biggest irritation was Scarrow's obsessive 'our boys' [that is virulent in the tabloids] views of the legions, and the bourgeois Praetorian Guard. The legions are salt of the earth, and the Guards nothing more than ornamental. The Praetorian Guard where a stabilizing force that protected an unbalanced throne - making and unmaking Emperor's, and both Praetorian and legionary where agents of Imperial Rome.
The plot didn't work for me either. May be Scarrow is better at battles scenes, but he should leave the Spy Thrillers to someone else. A riot springs up from nowhere, there is no foregrounding [and I suspect someone had been reading MC Scott's The Emperor's Spy, and like it so much he had to do the same.] I also suspect that Scarrow is a fan of Westerns, because that's what I felt like I was reading.
I can see that Scarrow certainly has his audience, but I'm certainly not it. Give me the political mechanications of Robert Graves, Rosemary Sutcliff and Robert Fabbri. Don't expect anything ground-breaking plot wise, it's pretty predictable stuff. Books with taglines such as 'two brave soldiers must fight to save the Roman Empire' always make me snigger [or 'chuckle' which seems to be a favourite of Mr Scarrow's]
In the Author Notes Scarrow concedes that the Praetorian Guard were dangerous. So why does he not allow his Guards show us how dangerous they are?