Rome’s Executioner – Vespasian 2 by Robert Fabbri
I must confess that when I read Tribune of Rome, the first book in the series, it took a while for me to get enthused as the beginning seemed to go a little slow but once the story gained momentum it gained my attention. The momentum carried over to volume two and this book had me from the start. The main plot concerns Vespasian being sent on a seemingly impossible mission to capture a loathsome renegade Thracian priest who may or may not be the key in bringing down the terror ridden reign of Aelius Sejanus who if I may interject was so wonderfully portrayed by Sir Patrick Stewart in I, Claudius, lo those many years ago when Sir Patrick had hair.
Vespasian has grown in the years between the two books into a more daunting and resolute individual. Gone for good is the hesitant, unsure boy who now longs for two primary things, the downfall of Sejanus and the continuing relationship he has with Antonia’s favorite slave, Caenis. Another example of a character that shines through the pages is Antonia the daughter of Marcus Antonius, mother to Claudius and his vile sister Livilla and grandmother to Gaius Caligula. She is the epitome of a noble family matron, strong, cunning and fixed with an indomitable will and spirit. What separates her from other portrayals of this remarkable woman that I have seen or read is that she is also very human and does not let her age, 60’s, curtail her libidinous urges.
The action is crisp, the dialogue well written and with an imaginative take on the whole how do we get to Caprae and tell Tiberius about Sejanus scenario. An inventive vocabulary, a thorough descriptiveness and well-rounded characters make this tale a pleasure to read. One of the things I really like is the author’s humorous turns of phrase, for example this reply as to whether he was ready to head into a dangerous situation a Thracian warrior responds, ‘We have a saying in Thrace, “A faint-heart never shagged a pig’” I cleaned that up a little for the faint of heart.
I highly recommend this book and series and look forward to the next installment and beyond. I give this book a rating of 4.6.
A note on Hoover Book Reviews new rating policy:
In order to have a little more leeway in rating a book we at Hoover Book Reviews are adopting the following policy. The system will still be based on 1-5 stars but with tenth of a point intervals, so a book that we in the past have rated 5 stars can now be more accurately fixed at say 4.5 or 4.2…etc etc. Of course this will only be reflected in the review itself as I cannot change Amazon’s restrictive, whole numbers only method.
Apion is a lost soul, doomed to a life of servitude and mockery. Losing his family to a band of mysterious raiders and horribly wounded himself he is rescued from his slavery by an unlikely source, a Seljuk farmer. Unlikely because he is a Christian and tensions are high between the proponents of Islam and the proponents of Christ in the borderlands of the Byzantine Empire. This is a story of how Apion overcomes his physical limitations and rises up through the ranks of the borderland garrison in the face of the invasion by Tugrul – The Falcon – and the Seljuk horde bent on the destruction of anything Byzantine.
The author, Gordon Doherty, has crafted a marvelous telling of the period when The East meets The West in the throes of Constantinople’s decline. You can feel the heat, hear the cicadas and experience the ironies of the many conflicted emotions in this saga of redemption, reward and revenge. As with any good book, the main protagonist needs an enemy, someone to focus his attention, someone to keep him going no matter the pain and the author does not disappoint. Not only does Apion have to deal with Seljuk warriors but also with elements within the garrison, a couple of real nasty specimens who just so happen work for The Emperor.
I really enjoyed this journey. It brings home the fact that we too live in a time of turmoil, that East vs. West is continuing to create uncertainty and fear. It is also a wonderful story in itself but also leaves you wanting more so strap on your scimitar and head to Anatolia for this excellent tale but leave room for the sequel.
The farther I go in this series the more I am convinced that Angus Donald’s Robin Hood is by far the best portrayal of this legendary man I have come across. Couple that with his story telling ability and you have a must read scenario. In this volume, King’s Man, Alan Dale finds himself labeled a traitor by seemingly everyone around him from Robin to Prince John to an old lover and even his good friends Marie-Anne and Godifa. Things on the home front at Westbury where Alan is ensconced as Lord of the Manor and from where he is telling this tale as an old man, are also not as well as they could be.
The story has as it’s backdrop the attempt by Prince John to replace his held for ransom brother, Richard, as King. While the deal making to set Richard free proceeds ever so slowly, John and the despicable Ralph Murdac consolidate their hold and power over the land and Robin finds himself an outlaw in Sherwood once again. The action is relentless, the intrigues are many and the introduction of some especially nefarious characters make for a very enjoyable read.
Most of you will already know the historical outcome of this royal sibling rivalry between John and Richard but I bet you haven’t read as interesting a take on this event as you will by reading King’s Man.
It was only a few pages into the first book of this series that I knew I would be reading the second one, Raven Sons of Thunder; an excellent decision. Once again the author has crafted a superb tale of Sigurd the Lucky and his Sword Norse wolf pack. In this installment, Raven, Sigurd and the rest of the crew have their sights set on making a deal with the King of the Franks, Karolus/Charlemagne, by selling him a valuable Christian relic that will make them richer than they can imagine. This requires them to journey deep into the kingdom of The Franks, a perilous undertaking given the pervading atmosphere of fear and hatred between the followers of The White Christ and the heathen Norse.
The story is replete with fierce action scenes filled with the brutality fueled by bigotry and the remorseless seeking of revenge. The author’s descriptive powers are on full display throughout the adventure not only in the battles fought but also in the many scenes depicting life in 9th century France. I was particularly amused by one scene that takes place in a tavern in which a Christian monk is hearing confessions from a couple English warriors who are now in the service of Sigurd. While confessing their sins, a couple bare breasted whores are doing their utmost to tempt the newly absolved warriors. Made me chuckle at the ironic nature of the situation.
The climatic ending of the story kept me up past my normal bedtime but it was worth the loss of sleep and certainly whetted my appetite for book 3, Odin’s Wolves. So sally forth with Raven and Sigurd and enjoy the journey.
Aside from passing mentions in other Roman era fiction, this is my first in depth encounter with the Alpine traversing, pachyderm using scourge of Rome since I saw the movie Hannibal starring Victor Mature back in the late 1950’s. This is not, however, my first encounter with the author Ben Kane having read his marvelous Forgotten Legion series.
The story here, while having many storylines filled with intrigue, revolves around two young men. Hanno is the son of a prominent officer in Hannibal’s army, while Quintus is the son of an equestrian class Roman. Through deft maneuvering of plot, the two are brought together midst the growing tension between Rome and Carthage.
Among all of the fascinating aspects to this story is the way the author subjects the main backdrop, i.e. Rome versus Carthage, to the various inter-personal conflicts that many of the characters are dealing with. Conflicts of loyalty not only to one’s home and leaders but conflicts of intense loyalty to one’s family and friends.
Another of the many aspects that stands out is how the author brings you into the action whether it be a coming of age bear hunt or the momentous crossing of The Alps. You can feel the breath of the bear as it fights for it’s life and the agony of the men and animals following Hannibal on that long and dangerous venture.
This is a riveting tale guaranteed to leave you wanting more from this gifted writer. Well, you need not worry along those lines as the sequel is out and ready to draw you further into the lives of the characters and the struggle for the supremacy of the Mediterranean world. Well done, Mr. Kane.