13 of 14 people found the following review helpful
Not the most successful of a wonderful series,
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This review is from: Antony and Cleopatra (Paperback)
McCullough's Masters of Rome series is, in my view, the most successful evocation of ancient Rome in fiction - far better than the light Lindsey Davis books or the Robert Harris volumes which are far more concerned with throwing a light on contemporary politics than recreating an ancient, and sometimes alien, culture. McCullough admittedly has a slight tendency to descending at times into something close to soap opera but she balances that with a detailed political narrative that takes us into the senate, the private meetings and the public meetings where Roman politics actually happened.
Sadly this book, the last of the series, is less successful than the other books. Partly I think this is due to the familiarity of the story: while McCullough, as always, is faithful to the sources (Plutarch, Cicero's anti-Antony Philippics etc.) this is still a story very familiar to people interested in ancient history through the works of people like Ronald Symes, Karl Galinsky et al. as well as more popular historians. Plus, of course, we cannot ignore the re-tellings of Shakespeare (who himself lifted great chunks from North's translation of Plutarch e.g. `the barge she sat in' speech) and other fiction-writers.
The other reason why I found this less satisfying than the earlier books is that McCullough seems so in love with Julius Caesar that the books after his death tend to flag a little. Here she tries to build up Augustus as a replacement and spends a lot of time telling us how beautiful he is with his silvery-gilt hair etc which I found very off-putting and unnecessarily chick-lit-ish. I have to confess I'm not a fan of Augustus anyway and think he was a far astuter (and unpleasant) politician than she allows for and also someone who I've never found an attractive personality.
But if you've read the rest of this marvellous series then it is worth continuing to the end. But if you haven't tried these books yet, this isn't the place to start. The first book is First Man in Rome about Marius and Sulla, but I think the series really comes to life in Fortune's Favourites. Enjoy.
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Initial post: 4 May 2012, 09:43:37 BST
I agree to most of what's been said here but couldn't have put it so eloquently myself. I'll take issue though with the final paragraph: I've read the whole series several times, and enjoy the first two books the most every time.
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