Legionary – Empire of Shades by Gordon Doherty

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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

Roma Amor by Sherry Christie

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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 Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith

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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.

 

The Ides by Peter Tonkin

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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

I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith

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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.

Pax Gallica – Marius Mules IX by SJA Turney

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Things are heating up between Caesar and the Senate.  The Senate calls for him to lay down his legions and return to Rome for prosecution while Caesar seeks to be made a Consul.  Marcus Falerius Fronto, ex-legate of the Tenth Legion has been declared an outlaw and takes his family to Massilia whereupon he decides that despite his differences with Caesar, the only way to regain what the Senate has taken from him is to rejoin Caesar.  Meanwhile there is an uprising in Aquitania led by an enigmatic man known as The Smiling King and Fronto is sent there with one legion made up of veterans ready to retire to put down the incursion and settle the veterans in that region.  Throughout this series, the author has created some very memorable characters, both Roman and barbarian.  In Pax Gallica, that honor belongs to The Smiling King; driven by vengeance, fueled by sacred vows, and totally ruthless in his pursuit to bring down Caesar.  Fronto needs all of the steadfast, professional demeanor of his ‘legion’ just to survive the opening salvos from this new enemy.  Fronto also needs all of his guile and experience to try to stay one step ahead of Smiley but is inexorably and with much loss led to where The Smiling King wants him.  Mr. Turney delivers yet again a muse inspired tale filled with drama, mystery, heroic deeds, loyalty, and most importantly a story of many twists and turns as he sets the stage for the inevitable showdown between Pompey and Caesar.  5 Stars and a Hoover Book Review query, Why haven’t you started this series yet?  🙂

Conspirata by Robert Harris

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The middle book of the trilogy,  Conspirata encompasses Cicero’s life during his Consulship and the subsequent fall out from the Catiline Conspiracy.  Through the voice of Tiro, the uber secretary, the author continues an excellent reading experience chock full of history enhanced with intrigue and emotion.  Cicero rides a stormy sea as he vacillates between victories, doubt, and a surprising predilection to turn his fears into heroic acts.  The characters ring true, from the pompous (Catalus, Hortensius), to the pretentious power seekers (Pompey, Crassus) and a unremitting, ruthless Caesar.

It had been quite a while between my reading of Imperium and Conspirata.  I predict that it won’t be as long before I start the final volume, Dictator.  4.8 stars & The Hoover Book Review’s coveted “It’s a Good One, Boys & Girls” award.