Vitellius’ Feast by L.J. Trafford

 

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First things first – I’m going to be sad for a long time. This is the final episode in this, ‘the year of four emperors’, and this makes me sad. Now whenever I get a craving for the author’s very creative writing style I’ll be forced into a rereading her books – oh, wait a moment, that is actually a good thing. 🙂  Alrighty then, glad to have thought this through, I feel much better; now onto the review of Vitellius’ Feast.

As with the other failed emperors, this particular failure is told from the perspective of the professional palace staff members, which means we get to follow the exploits of some of my favorite fictional characters (at least the one’s who have survived the previous failures). Philo, Epaphroditus, Lysander, Felix, Sporus, and Mina are all involved in various ways. At first, serving the new emperor, but in the end – well I best not go there, let’s just say that the author has once again bewitched me with her plots, subplots, and  surprises.  The interaction between the fictional characters and the historical figures is, as expected, flawlessly contrived; the description of Vitellius’ gluttony and abhorrent bedtime practices, the sometime comical interplay between Mina and Domitian, yes dear readers, the author is at the top of her game.  I expectantly await more from her.  🙂  5 stars

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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

 

The Year of the Snake by M.J. Trow & Maryanne Coleman

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A murder mystery set during the enlightened reign of Nero (well, maybe not enlightened, more of a spoiled kid playing with power). An aged Senator, Gaius Nerva dies suddenly and it is assumed it was a natural death, but his devoted steward/slave Calidus thinks otherwise and embarks on an investigation. This search for the murderer leads in many directions including to the Imperial Court.  A cleverly concocted set of circumstances reveals many suspects and motives. Calidus, now a freedman, is persistent despite a lack of results, and an increasingly dangerous situation. The authors kept me engaged throughout this many faceted who done it including a look at Nero and the strange relationship he has with his mother, Agrippina; an interesting subplot to this enjoyable look at what Rome was like during this rather bizarre period of history. The characters, from the upper echelons of Roman society to the seedy underworld of the delightful cut purse thief, Piso are brought out in exquisite detail. The conclusion of the investigation and the resulting revelations is a top notch bit of creativity, though I will not say more about that.  🙂  4 stars