Rome: The Emperor’s Spy by M.C. Scott

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Well now, my faithful legion of readers, I am somewhat baffled. I actually started to read this novel about five years ago, but through the vicissitudes of life, I never finished it. I, as you may have guessed by now, have finished after finding it snugged up with my collection of Tom Clancy novels, and then re-reading the beginning chapters. The tale takes place during the reign of Nero and while there are many plots and subplots, the famous episode of the burning of Rome is the focal point of the narrative. Nero is often depicted as a spoiled narcissist caring nothing except for his own pleasure and power. The author does indeed include those elements of his character, but also shows a side that cares deeply, if a bit mercurial, about the well being of his people. As for the famous fire and who caused it, it has been speculated that Christians were the culprits. Here is where the author transcends the oft repeated cause and takes it further, having the fire played out as a Sibylline prophecy with some surprises as to who runs with that prophecy and seeks Rome’s downfall. Indeed, I was taken aback slightly with this particular look at what I was brought up to believe about God and Jesus…not that that is a bad thing, by the way. I hesitate to say more as to not be a spoiler. Hint – be sure to read the author’s notes at the end. So, my peeps and fellow travelers, I absolutely recommend this highly entertaining rendering of Nero and his fire. After all, not only do you get that aspect, but also a spy tale, a charioteer tale, and remnants of the Boudiccan revolt all wrapped up in a superbly written book guaranteed to keep you turning the pages. 5 stars

 

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A Year of Ravens

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A collaborative effort of seven authors, A Year of Ravens tells the tale of the Iceni Queen, Boudica and her rebellion against Rome.  While the cause and effects of the war are admirably presented, it is the characters that drive this emotion packed, soul searching, heartstring tugging story(or rather stories).  From the beginning the readers are treated to a seamless transition from author to author and the way each of them puts their own marks on the growth of each character.  Time and time again I was drawn into a character’s mindset and felt the pain, the remorse, the confusion, and even the occasional joy being experienced.  One, of the many examples I could choose, of a character’s journey through the book is the fictional wife of the Roman Procurator.  Valeria as introduced in the first chapter is a cold as ice Roman matron whose only ambition is to promote her rather timid husband’s career.  What she experiences in subsequent events is so beautifully written as to elicit some tearing up even to this old curmudgeon.  Also on display are the realities of war and the cruelties inflicted by men(and women) madly entrenched in the rightness of their cause.  Whether it’s shield wall action or the rampant, wanton destruction of a town or village, the battle scenes are bloodlust filled events punctuated with the sounds of sword on sword and the screams of the dying.

By way of summation, let me say, from the very beginning with the Intro by Ben Kane to the very, very end with an afterword from each author, this book is a testament to the creative genius of seven wordsmiths.  5 stars