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.
A scintillating story of adventure in the late 4th century as agents of the Emperor try to piece together a plot to bring back Pagan worship to Britannia and to retrieve a document that identifies the leaders. Plenty of twists and surprises as Flavius and friends find there is more to it than meets the eye and people aren’t always who or what they seem. Action galore awaits as the team travels in pursuit of a mysterious woman and a gang of vicious cut throats who also want that document, at any price. Well written characters and a nice descriptive narrative have me convinced to read book two. 3.8 stars
The Ides of Mars is fast approaching and there are evil portents aplenty warning Gaius Julius Caesar to beware of the day. As is well known, Caesar did not heed the warnings; his violent death ushering in another period of Roman civil war and the rise of emperors. In The Ides the reader experiences a different take on this history shaking event as we follow the story through the eyes and actions of a cadre of agents who seek to protect Caesar from those who would do him harm. The tale is replete with wonderful characters, a story line that is filled with surprises, and a detailed view of the city of Rome and it’s varied citizenry from lowly plebs and former soldiers to the aristocrats who vie for power during the unsettling aftermath. I read a lot of Roman historical fiction and this rendering of those climatic days rates up there with then best of them and I’m looking forward to the sequel. 4.3 stars
One of the reasons I have watched the BBC production of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius so many times is Sian Phillips portrayal of Livia, the powerfully wicked wife of Augustus and Mother of the Empire. One of the reasons I thoroughly enjoyed I Am Livia is the vastly different light Livia is portrayed by Phyllis T. Smith. Instead of the scheming woman clearing a path to the throne for her son Tiberius, we find a woman longing to help her husband gain control of the Roman Empire; becoming not just a wife, but an adviser who manages to soften the harsher side of her Tavius. The author has given the reader some excellent characters to embrace in a historical setting that determines the future of Rome and the world. Emotions run high and are on display in this tale; a tale that is well known, Octavius and Antony and who will rule the world. That backdrop to the story of Livia, and seen mostly through her eyes, provides a page turning delight. I came upon this book kind of accidentally and am glad that I did. 5 stars Highly recommended by the prestigious yet humble Hoover Book Reviews.