Ahh, that tumultuous period after Gaius Julius Caesar’s assassination. A power vacuum now exists in Rome providing the drama as the contestants for that power vie for and against each other. Lots of work for the agents who used to work for the now divine Julius and who are now firmly in Antony’s camp carrying out his wishes and commands throughout Italy and beyond. Given that the historical events are pretty well known it would take a creative imagination to render the fictional bits believable and intriguing. The author has done that through the actions of the elite group of agents conjured up to bring the story to life. They mesh seamlessly with the likes of Antony, Octavian, Cicero etc, as they interact with friends and foes. The story flows nicely as it heads to the tension filled collision of Antony and a Cicero provoked Senate. As well as providing an intriguing tale, the author has splendidly described the geographical locations; an example of that is Antony’s retreat from Mutina into the Alps following Hannibal’s route. My only real complaint is that book 3 isn’t out yet. 4.7 stars
The Rubicon River, a rather insignificant stream with a rather major significance. Fronto is once again with Gaius Julius Caesar and follows him across that river and into open rebellion against fellow Romans. In MM X, the author presents the events of Caesar’s siege of Massilia and his campaign in Hispania against Pompey’s legions. In a nice bit of plot interweaving, we find Fronto, once again in charge of a legion, with Caesar at Ilerda while at the same time he is also mentally occupied with the Massilia situation due to his business interests there and the fact that his nice villa is now a Roman camp. The cast is replete with some old favorites, Galronus, Antonius, Brutus, and a nice cameo from Musgava and crew. On the flip side we have some nasties like Ahenobarbus and Petreius for example. We are also introduced to an intriguing character, Salvius Cursor, one of those characters who make you wonder if you’re supposed to hate him or to like him – trust me, you’ll understand as you read the book. The author puts on another display of his battle prowess, but to me it was more of a story about the characters; the mindsets of Caesar – the way he prosecutes this war; Fronto and the fact that he is aging but can’t stay out of the action; Salvius and his need for bloodshed. It is a masterful telling of historical events that changed the Roman world with a fine smattering of fictional tweaking. It is sad to realize that we are on the down slope of Marius Mules; only five more volumes to go. 🙂 4.7 stars
The Legionary series, has become one of my favorites over the years, and am happy to report that Empire of Shades carries on the tradition of crafty storytelling that we’ve grown to expect from Mr. Doherty. The masterful interweaving of the multiple plot lines throughout the tale are sure to keep the reader engaged and turning pages. Pavo and the rest of his gang are really put to the test in many ways and many times in this many layered thriller. Pavo reaches a new depth of character as he pursues a promise made to his friend and mentor, Gallus. He also finds love again and that experience leaves it’s mark. Set against the backdrop of Theodosius taking the mantle of Emperor of the East and the unsettling shenanigans of Gratian, the Emperor of the West, Mr. Doherty leads us on a brutal adventure during a time of great migrations and a changing world. 4.7 stars
Whenever I think of Caligula, I see John Hurt’s I,Claudius portrayal, one of a madman ruling an empire. In Roma Amor, we find a different Caligula, one who is still working out how to be Emperor while trying to keep at bay the tormenting demons in his mind. This story, while it is certainly about Caligula, is more than that. Marcus Carinna returns to Rome, a successful military campaign completed and hostages in tow and finds himself in a struggle to find the truth about his family and the truth behind Caligula’s rise to power. It is also a tale of loyalties, mostly misspent loyalties, to the greater good of Rome. I found it easy to like Carinna and likewise felt the pain and anguish he experiences throughout the book. Indeed, that is one of the strengths of the story, that the characters, real and fictitious, are believable; no matter their station or role. The plots and subplots keep the reader guessing as Carinna and Caligula head into a clash of wills; a clash that an emperor usually wins…but I will leave it at that. 3.8 stars
The duo of Cato and Macro once again are in the middle of a mess; this time in Britannia fighting against the formidable leader, Caratacus. Of course, that isn’t enough for the author as there is also the challenge presented by a rogue centurion and his fellow Thracian auxiliary cohort. A robust, heart pounding tale of bravery and steadfast loyalty awaits the reader in this 12th episode in the series. Life was hard at these frontier outposts and the author excels at bringing those hardships to life. It is also a continued strengthening of the bond between Cato and Macro despite that Cato now outranks his friend and mentor. 4.3 stars
To quote the band Queen, “Another one bites the dust.” Rome is going through emperors faster than Lincoln went through generals in the American Civil War. In fact, it is going through them so fast that Vitellius thinks he’s supplanting Galba who’s already been supplanted by Otho. A troubling time for the men and women who made up the bureaucracy that ran the Empire. Those are the main characters in this, the third volume of this marvelous series. The author once again conjures up a thrilling account of one of Rome’s more raucous and unstable times. She continues her fine descriptive powers and her frequent humorous touch right from page 1, “Beside them sat the boiled quail’s eggs, the roasted dormice, the crispy lampreys, and the steamed turbot that constituted Vitellius’ breakfast. This was the first course. There were another eight to come.” As this period in Roman history rolls on we get to meet some new characters as well as the old standbys like Mina, Sporus, Epaphroditus and Philo, who all shine by the way. We now get to meet the famous consort of Vespasian, Antonia Caenis; a formidable woman and Domitian, his younger son. The story is a rousing rendition of Otho’s attempt to ward off a coup and is done so in a fashion that had me alternately snickering at the antics of the characters but also in very poignant way that showed the anguish, uncertainty and sorrows of the campaign. A page turning delight with surprises galore as the story gathers momentum for the exciting finish. I look forward to the next edition. 4.7 stars
The sequel to I Am Livia continues to follow the reign of Octavian/Augustus Caesar and is told from the perspective of three of the important women in his life; Livia, his wife; Julia, his daughter; and the daughter of Cleopatra and Antony, Cleopatra Selene. Once again I was enthralled with the author’s ability to take a period of history and make it come alive with all of the emotion, the fears, the makings of a dynastic family amid constant turmoil. The portrayals of the main figures in this at times triumphant; at times tragic tale, are redolent with realism; it could have happened this way. Livia is a true help mate for Tavius; Julia a daughter whose frustration at being just a tool for her father searches for passion; Cleopatra Selene brought up with no hope of plotting her own future finds purpose and happiness. The Daughters of Palatine Hill is a masterful rendition; the author possesses the knack for keeping the reader thoroughly entertained; a page turning delight as the story progresses to Julia’s banishment. A well done tale indeed. 4.8 stars and a Hoover Book Review hope that there is more forthcoming from Phyllis T. Smith.