It is AD 51 and Vespasian is more powerful than ever. Now consul of Rome, Vespasian is riding the wave of success that followed his capture of infamous British warrior and rebel Caratacus. It would appear to all that the new consul could rise little higher in the favour of Claudius, emperor and conqueror of Britannia. But this is imperial Rome, a political and moral quagmire, and Vespasian is learning that he may be safer subduing the tribes of Britannia than attempting to understand the machinations of Claudius’s latest wife, Agrippina, or enduring the battle for supremacy between Claudius’s two freedmen, Narcissus and Pallas. Indeed, it’s soon clear that Vespasian’s consulship is little more than an empty gesture while, rather intriguingly, Caratacus’s fortunes in his adopted city soar. Difficult times. It’s just as well, then, when Vespasian gets a little push out of Rome.
Vespasian is despatched eastwards to Armenia, to sort out an irritating problem of succession, a situation which has also caught the attention of the Parthians. Rumours circulate that Agrippina is trying to stir up the East, aided by the rise of a troublesome new Jewish cult. Vespasian’s brother Sabinus, Governor of Moesia, Macedonia and Thracia, has mucked up his plan to thwart Parthian ambitions. It’s now up to Vespasian to to fix his family honour, to sort out the East, and satisfy at once all of the political powers of Rome.
Rome’s Lost Son is the sixth novel in Robert Fabbri’s outstanding depiction of the life, career and times of one of Rome’s most successful (depending on how you judge success) emperors. Despite the fact that the novel is a sequel to those that went before, continuing the stories of some of Rome’s most fascinating leading figures, Rome’s Lost Son could be easily read as a stand alone novel. But if you have read them one after another then you will have the added benefit of watching Vespasian’s character develop.
Vespasian is much older now and he has spent a great deal of time in the company of some of Rome’s most corrupt. We’ve encountered Tiberius, Caligula and Messalina in their full and shocking colour in previous novels and in Rome’s Lost Son it becomes clear that Agrippina and her terrifyingly self-aware son Nero may take that corruption to new depths. A man cannot serve this Rome for decades and not be touched by it and there are signs now that Vespasian has been changed. For the first time he is looking ahead. He knows the prophecies surrounding his destiny and he’s begun to believe them. This alters his behaviour and makes Rome’s Lost Son a thoroughly absorbing portrait of the effects of evil on a man who is, or was or could have been fundamentally good.
Hand in hand with this character portrayal goes an action-packed plot that is completely absorbing. We see Vespasian as never before. In the East he must endure experiences that are overwhelmingly powerful and disturbing to read. Vespasian does indeed become lost. There are scenes here that are beautifully written, made all the more so because we have grown to know the man. But it’s not just Vespasian. We learn about the men around him, his relationship to his men and to his slaves. It’s a wonderful mix of grand politics on one hand and simple human relationships on the other.
There are some scenes in Rome’s Lost Son that would be hard to forget, several of them involving the imperial family. There is deep tragedy. It’s a truly terrifying portrait and the colour that it adds to this novel is intense, just as previous novels were lit by their portrayals of earlier mad emperors and their kin.
Robert Fabbri is achieving great things with this series. He manages to surprise me with each novel, always finding an unusual perspective or taking me down a totally unexpected path. The character of Vespasian builds in each book and the fact that we know he will finally become emperor adds to the marvel of how he survived these extraordinary years. This is a wonderful series and Rome’s Lost Son is one of its best with a conclusion that is outstanding. I can’t recommend it enough.