Rome: The Emperor’s Spy by M.C. Scott


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


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


Palatine by L.J. Trafford


Depraved, deluded and plainly not playing with a full deck, Nero ruled the world mostly through his imperial staff.  It is the staff that the author focuses on in this, the first part of the Year of Four Emperors.  Her characters include Nero’s personal secretary, the two Praetorian Prefects, the lowly messengers, the slaves and freedmen who made life possible in the palace complex.  It is through their eyes and actions that we witness the downfall and overthrow of Nero.  The author has given us an entertaining read full of drama and emotion and characters that are well written and who run the gamut from the lovable(Artemina) to the despicable(Sabinus); from the ostentatious, larger than life(Nero, Sporos) to the lowly slaves dwelling in the clutches of overseers and power hungry freedmen.  The dialogue is crisp and quite witty, if just a tad modern at times and yet that did not dampen my enjoyment.  Indeed I am looking forward to reading more of this series.  4 stars.

About the author:

After gaining a BA Hons in Ancient History LJ Trafford toured the amphitheaters of western europe before a collision with a moped in Rome left her unable to cross the road.
Which was a shame because there was some really cool stuff on the other side.
Returning to the UK somewhat battered and certainly very bruised she spent several years working as a tour guide. A perfect introduction to writing, involving as it did, the need for entertainment and a hefty amount of invention (it’s how she got tips).
She now works in London doing something whizzy with computers.

Palatine is the first in the Four Emperors series. Book Two is Galba’s Men, to be followed by Otho’s Regret and Vitellius’ Feast.

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Defender of Rome by Douglas Jackson


Gaius Valerius Verrens has returned to Rome and is made a Hero Of Rome by the Emperor, Nero for his actions and bravery in Britain.  Of course being in Nero’s spotlight isn’t always a good thing as Verrens finds out after having been solicited by Nero and then given an almost impossible task, apprehending Petrus, the leader of a new religious sect that threatens to undermine Roman society and politics.

The author has given us a story of much intrigue and has populated the main story line with many obstacles for Verrens to negotiate and overcome in this exciting sequel.   While the first book was of a military mindset, this one is more of a detective story set mostly in and around Rome itself.  That in and of itself shows the author’s ability to move his main character into a situation involving different skills while building on the lessons learned and confidence gained in his earlier experiences.

A page turning tale that brings  one face to face with power politics, religious fervor and the struggle to satisfy a capricious leader, I heartily recommend this book and series.


The Sword and the Throne by Henry Venmore-Rowland

Nice review of yet another series I now hafta read 🙂

For winter nights - A bookish blog

Publisher: Bantam Press
Pages: 352
Year: 2013, Pb 2014
Buy: Hardback, Kindle, Paperback
Source: Review copy

The Sword and the Throne by Henry Venmore-RowlandReview
Aulus Caecina Severus is triumphant. His lord Vitellius is poised on the edge of Italy, ready to march into Rome in a blaze of glory, emperor, supported on either side by his generals Severus and Valens, now Consuls. AD 68, the year of four emperors, explored in The Last Caesar, has now turned into AD 69, a year in which Rome could be at peace, led by men such as Severus. If only it were that simple.

The Sword and the Throne focuses on the events following the suicide of Otho, once master of Severus but now reduced to an elaborate artificial death, a crease of red self-drawn across his throat, his men defeated, now looking for a new leader. After his time of subterfuge…

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