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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Daughters of Rome by Kate Quinn

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Okay, I am now convinced beyond all doubt.  I have read Mistress of Rome, The Three Fates and Kate Quinn’s contribution to Day of Fire and through reading these books I noticed that a certain amount of talent lie within her pen and keyboard.  What put me over the edge in my nascent admiration, is chapter 17 in Daughters of Rome, the chariot race chapter.  What Judah Ben-Hur and Messala did for chariot racing on the big screen, Kate does in chapter 17.for the written word.  Now that’s not meant to take away from the rest of the book; oh no, not by any means.  The author has portrayed four Cornelian noble women and their seeming ever changing fortunes during the infamous Year of the Four Emperors.  With each new emperor a new level of growth for our four heroines from the loosening of Cornelia’s stubborn resolve to the change from the ‘oh woe is me’ Marcella to the ‘instrument of change’ Marcella.  Lollias’ coming to grips with love and the sheer number of emotions experienced by Diana in chapter 17, well that alone is worth the price of admission, dear reader. Yes, I am convinced, Kate Quinn can write pretty good.  5 stars

Rome’s Fallen Eagle by Robert Fabbri

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Caligula lies dead by the hands of assassins.  Claudius, the drooling fool is proclaimed Emperor but his rule will be a short one unless he wins over the legions.  To do that his three conniving freedmen, Narcissus, Pallas and Callistus, concoct a scheme of breath taking magnitude.  Thus we find Vespasian and his brother Sabinus on a seemingly impossible mission to find and return the lost Eagle of the 17th Legion; lost 30 years prior in the Teutoburg Forest massacre.  What follows is a masterful story of danger, excitement and unrelenting action coupled with the snake-oil, behind the scenes plotting of the powers behind Claudius; not only of his freedmen but of his devious wife Messalina.  Mr. Fabbri has created a compelling tale of Vespasian and his ever increasing belief in himself and his destiny.  His leadership qualities and his abilities as a warrior come to the fore in this volume of what is a great series of books.  From the vast and dark forests of Germania to the savage battles fought for Claudius’ benefit in Britain, Rome’s Fallen Eagle takes the reader on a splendid ride indeed.  5 stars

False God of Rome – Vespasian III by Robert Fabbri

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Well boys and girls, chalk this one up as another fine example of an author who has successfully written a series that just keeps getting better. The growth and development of Vespasian has been sure and steady and it has been a whole lot of fun observing his confidence and abilities expand from that uncertain farm boy in book one. This edition occurs during the end of Tiberius reign and the start of Caligula’s rule of madness. I love the way the author fleshes out this captivating yet revolting emperor…whenever he’s on the page I imagine the sight and sound of John Hurt from I. Claudius.
The plots and story lines are many and they keep you guessing as to what will happen next. Vespasian is caught in a web of personal trauma as he delicately treads the fine line between life and death as a “friend” of Caligula while at the same time juggling two women(and keeping them away from The Emperor.)
It had been a while between reading book 2 and book 3…I doubt I’ll wait too long to delve into the next one. 5 stars.

An Accidental King by Mark Patton

I must confess that while reading this I couldn’t help but wonder what one thing about the book really grabbed my attention; something to focus a review on.  As I continued, I gradually realized that it was the whole understated approach in this narrative that was the one thing.   Now that may sound strange but I found the author’s style to be subtle yes, but also descriptive and educational.  Let me set up the story a little, the narrator is Cogidubnus a priest and King of the Regenses and who was elevated to Great King of Britain by Claudius.  The point in the story where I saw through the subliminal like message of the text was Cogidubnus telling his audience of his first visit to Rome.  The awe inspiring splendor of Rome as seen through the eyes of a wattle and thatch hut existence woke me up to the descriptive talents of the author.

The protagonist sees himself as a priest first even after Claudius elevates him.  He always strives for a peaceful solution as this best pleases the gods, but there are times and events during his long reign that are far from peaceful.  He not only has to deal with the likes of Caratacos and Boudicca but with mostly uncaring, stubborn Roman officials.  There are exceptions to the avarice driven as Cogidubnus makes a lifelong friend in Vespasian and has a decent rapport with Claudius.  I really enjoyed how Vespasian was introduced into the story, cleverly done.

The ebb and flow of the tale meanders back and forth from events in the early and middle parts of Cogidubnus reign as Great King to the present day governorship of Agricola, the death of Vespasian and Titus the new Emperor.  It is an interesting time period and that brings me to another strong point of the narrative and that is; as you read this story you learn stuff.  I suppose that is to be expected given that the author is a historian and scholar, he probably can’t help himself.  🙂  The depth of detail speaks of meticulous research and knowledge of the subject matter and is subtle in delivery. Not like my college history professor who would pace from one end of the room to the other showering us with his wisdom when he would stop and exclaim, ‘Oh this is important, write this down word for word.’

This is an enjoyable read.  I rate it 4 stars.

Blood of Rome: Caratacus by John Salter

This, the debut novel of John Salter, is the story of the legendary Briton Caratacus and his quest to protect his homeland from the Claudian invasion of Britain.  Most of the book focuses on the 2nd Augusta Legion under it’s Legate Vespasian as he strives to convince the various tribes to acquiesce to Roman rule and order.  The author brings to life some very interesting characters both Roman and Briton in this well researched tale.  The Britons Caratacus, Adminius and Brenna bring to life the differences of opinion as to whether submission to Rome or the destruction of the invader is the better choice for their home and people.  Their motives and emotions are vastly different from each other(I won’t say who is of which opinion so as to not reveal a spoiler, though Caratacus’ choice is probably well known) and are the heart and soul of the conflict.

As in any good story there are plenty of plot twists especially one towards the end that is very nice yet very nasty and I was taken completely by surprise.  The battle scenes are well done, the gore is not overly excessive yet enough so that you get the feel of what it would have been like to be a Roman legionnaire facing a menacing group of  frenzied, woad covered warriors.  You also get to know what it was like to be an advance scouting party of Roman cavalry from the intense fear to the comradeship of the men involved.  I am looking forward to the next volume in this saga as the battle for Britain is far from over and Caractacus is as determined as ever to throw the Romans back into the sea.  My rating for this is 3.8 stars.

Rome’s Executioner – Vespasian 2 by Robert Fabbri

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.