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
Rome’s Executioner – Vespasian 2 by Robert Fabbri
I must confess that when I read Tribune of Rome, the first book in the series, it took a while for me to get enthused as the beginning seemed to go a little slow but once the story gained momentum it gained my attention. The momentum carried over to volume two and this book had me from the start. The main plot concerns Vespasian being sent on a seemingly impossible mission to capture a loathsome renegade Thracian priest who may or may not be the key in bringing down the terror ridden reign of Aelius Sejanus who if I may interject was so wonderfully portrayed by Sir Patrick Stewart in I, Claudius, lo those many years ago when Sir Patrick had hair.
Vespasian has grown in the years between the two books into a more daunting and resolute individual. Gone for good is the hesitant, unsure boy who now longs for two primary things, the downfall of Sejanus and the continuing relationship he has with Antonia’s favorite slave, Caenis. Another example of a character that shines through the pages is Antonia the daughter of Marcus Antonius, mother to Claudius and his vile sister Livilla and grandmother to Gaius Caligula. She is the epitome of a noble family matron, strong, cunning and fixed with an indomitable will and spirit. What separates her from other portrayals of this remarkable woman that I have seen or read is that she is also very human and does not let her age, 60’s, curtail her libidinous urges.
The action is crisp, the dialogue well written and with an imaginative take on the whole how do we get to Caprae and tell Tiberius about Sejanus scenario. An inventive vocabulary, a thorough descriptiveness and well-rounded characters make this tale a pleasure to read. One of the things I really like is the author’s humorous turns of phrase, for example this reply as to whether he was ready to head into a dangerous situation a Thracian warrior responds, ‘We have a saying in Thrace, “A faint-heart never shagged a pig’” I cleaned that up a little for the faint of heart.
I highly recommend this book and series and look forward to the next installment and beyond. I give this book a rating of 4.6.
A note on Hoover Book Reviews new rating policy:
In order to have a little more leeway in rating a book we at Hoover Book Reviews are adopting the following policy. The system will still be based on 1-5 stars but with tenth of a point intervals, so a book that we in the past have rated 5 stars can now be more accurately fixed at say 4.5 or 4.2…etc etc. Of course this will only be reflected in the review itself as I cannot change Amazon’s restrictive, whole numbers only method.