After the Ides by Peter Tonkin

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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

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Fields of Mars – Marius Mules X by S.J.A. Turney

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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 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

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.

 

Lady of the Eternal City by Kate Quinn

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There are times when this humble scribe finds it difficult to articulate or to even come close to the right words to use.  This is one of those times.  Kate Quinn has delivered a masterpiece of a series that culminates in Lady of the Eternal City.  There aren’t many books that reduce me to tears or has me screaming in disbelief but  Kate has done those things to me repeatedly throughout.  On top of the emotions, she also has me believing that this is the way things might have actually happened.  That’s what comes out of a fiction so well written; so well researched.  I cannot recommend the Empress of Rome series highly enough but you must begin with book one; otherwise you will miss out on the muse inspired character developments, the emotion touching prose, the elegance of language that permeates all four books.  I, for one, will have this series on my To Read Again List.  5 Stars

Lily of the Nile by Stephanie Dray

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The son of Gaius Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, Caesarion, seems to get most of the press in fiction in relation to the three children borne by Cleopatra with Marcus Antonius, Selene, Helios and Philadelphus.  The fate of those three is the backdrop to Stephanie Dray’s series starting with Lily of the Nile.  I was captivated from the get go as the author begins with Cleopatra’s death and the arrival in Rome of the children as part of Octavian’s Triumph; a humiliating experience to say the least.  They are given over to Octavia’s care but it’s Octavian with help from Livia who are the true architects of the children’s future.  The interaction between Octavian and Selene progresses through the story and is one of the highlights of the book.  The author does a superb job in that relationship, one that changes/grows as the power of Isis is made manifest in Selene.  The erstwhile rulers of Egypt never give up their hope of being restored to their rightful place but there are many obstacles and lessons to be learned.  I really enjoyed this story, the portrayal of Caesar Augustus is especially well done as are the characters of the twins…indeed this is a hallmark of Stephanie Dray’s writing acumen…the way she draws the reader into a character’s state of mind.  Looking forward to the rest of this series… 5 stars.