The Throne of Caesar by Steven Saylor

Constable | 2018 (2 March) | 392p | Review copy | Buy the book

Julius Caesar, recently awarded the title of Dictator of Rome for life, is shortly to leave Rome to fight the Parthian Empire. Surely this will be a campaign every bit as glorious as the one he led in Gaul. Caesar intends to leave Rome tightly bound to him and so he will hold a grand session in the Senate on the Ides of March. More Senators and officials will be sworn in before they all proceed to vote in favour of a series of laws that Caesar is determined to introduce. But Caesar’s wife Calpurnia and her soothsayer are desperate for him to stay away from the Senate. They have foreseen that Caesar is in terrible danger. But from what?

The grand orator Cicero likewise thinks that something may be afoot. He calls in his old friend Gordianus the Finder to investigate. Gordianus, now in his sixties, has retired from a life of solving murder and crime but this is no time to rest. Caesar tells him that Gordianus is to be made one of the new Senators on the Ides of March. Gordianus has just four days to uncover a conspiracy that threatens to rip the head from the body of Rome.

I have enjoyed Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa Gordianus the Finder series for over 25 years and now with The Throne of Caesar the series draws to a close. When a well-loved series ends, it inevitably causes conflicted feelings. I was so glad to see another book – it’s been a fair old while since The Triumph of Caesar, the last of the series (if you exclude the three recent prequels exploring Gordianus’ adventures and travels as a young man), and The Throne of Caesar was most welcome. Though there is a sadness at saying goodbye. But, if Gordianus has to retire, then he’s picked the right case with which to close an illustrious career – the most infamous murder in Roman history.

Of course, we all know what happened on the Ides of March in 44 BC. But that takes away nothing from this very clever and beautifully-written novel. Steven Saylor presents events day by day from 10 March until the end of the month. He uses his imminent Senatorial promotion as an excuse to meet with some of Rome’s most powerful men, ostensibly to ask them where he should buy the necessary toga, and the result is a thoroughly gripping and insightful portrait of Roman politics and society during these portentous days.

Gordianus the Finder is a great observer of human nature and the personalities he’s confronted with here couldn’t be more charismatic and fascinating. Caesar himself is a dominant presence and I loved the times we spend with him. This is just a snapshot, we’re only given a few days, but the power of his personality, even when at home in Rome or in the garden of a visiting Cleopatra, shines through. As Gordianus moves from house to house, we observe so much about Roman elite society quite apart from its politics, including the arts, philosophy, families and religion. I was completely immersed in every aspect of the novel, including the moments when Caesar and his companions listen gripped to poets reading their latest verse.

I also really enjoyed the moments spent with Gordianus’ own family. He regularly reflects on how he has the most happy and harmonious of homes and this is so good to learn. We want nothing but good in the life of Gordianus and his wonderful wife.

The climax of the novel is, not surprisingly, the Ides of March, and the events of that day and its immediate aftermath are brilliantly depicted. We are spared none of the horror and the desperation, and the overpowering sense felt by all that these are moments that will live through all history. But this is a Gordianus the Finder novel and therefore there are surprises in store. Not everything is as it seems.

Although The Throne of Caesar is the thirteenth and last of the series, it actually stands alone very well indeed. So if you haven’t read the others, this won’t matter, but afterwards you may well want to go back and see what else Gordianus got up to in the world of Caesar, Pompey, Cleopatra and Cicero.

I think it’s quite possible that The Throne of Caesar is the best of all Steven Saylor’s novels and I can’t imagine a better ending for the Rome Sub Rosa series. We’re given hints that other members of the family may be following in Gordianus’ investigative footsteps but whether those are pursued in other novels or not The Throne of Caesar celebrates the end of the glorious career of Gordianus the Finder. The novel also depicts so brilliantly this most significant event in Rome’s history. Rome will never be the same again.

Other review
Wrath of the Furies

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