Why bother going to the trouble of inventing a decent plot and characters when history has already done it for you? The reigns of the Caesars in ancient Rome were full of memorable people and weird and wonderful occurrences driven by the power lust, greed and pure madness of the ruling family.
Telling the tale from an insider's perspective, this book tells the story of Claudius' reign as Caesar, his attempts to conquer Britain, his tragic marriage to the perfidious Messalina and his eventual death. In order to survive he plays up his image of the amiable idiot, never quite dangerous enough to be worth killing. But behind the mask was a quick and observant man, fascinated with establishing the truth for his history books.
Robert Graves provides Claudius with a compassionate personality, ill suited to his times. But this makes the narrating voice one with which we have much sympathy, especially when the cruel deceptions practiced by Messalina are revealed. The story is put forward in a clear and compelling fashion. Covering almost 20 years, and with a host of characters, it is epic in scale, yet centres around a very human story of just one man. Graves draws each character well, and provides them with distinctive mannerisms and voices, making each stand out clearly.
This book is a sequel to the equally great `I, Claudius', which details the Claudian family history, and Claudius' life up to being declared emperor.
These are absolute classics of English literature. Erudite, beautifully written, but also enthralling adventure stories that are highly accessible. Highly recommended to all.