Category Archives: Roman

The Last Hour by Harry Sidebottom – a review and extract

Zaffre | 2018 (8 March) | 400p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Last Hour by Harry SidebottomBallista runs for his life through the spiraling tunnels of Hadrian’s Mausoleum in the centre of Rome. As he climbs on to its roof top and stares down at the Tiber flowing many feet below him, his options are limited. The stakes, though, couldn’t be higher. At the last hour of daylight tomorrow, after a day of games and spectacle, the Emperor Gallienus will be murdered as he leaves the Colosseum. Ballista knew Gallienus when they were boys growing up together. He may be the only man allowed to get close enough to the emperor to save him. But before Ballista can save the emperor, he must first save himself.

It is the second half of the 3rd century AD. Gallienus is Emperor. The Empire is on the verge of being torn apart from within. And only one man stands in his way…. The Last Hour is a long awaited Ballista Warrior of Rome novel from the master Harry Sidebottom but it’s a Ballista book with a great deal of difference. This isn’t an adventure that sees Ballista fight for his life and those of his men in the empire’s most remote arenas of war – instead, he is placed in the heart of Rome and his high military rank is irrelevant. Ballista has just one task – to save the emperor, on his own, and to escape the conspirators who are intent on ensnaring Ballista in their trap.

The action takes place over just one day and it never lets up. This is a Roman thriller. There aren’t many of these and if an author can be trusted to do it right it’s Harry Sidebottom. The author brings an awful lot to it more than action and swordfights. As a lecturer in ancient history at the University of Oxford, Harry Sidebottom knows his stuff and he always makes sure that his novels are enriched by that knowledge and understanding, but at no expense to their pace and merit as works of fiction. I always learn things from a Harry Sidebottom novel and The Last Hour is no different.

Throughout we’re given little pieces about Roman history and society – whether it be about the place of slaves and women in that world, or its religion and philosophy, its gladiatorial games or arena punishments, or its streets, tenements, temples, villas and inns. This book provides a fantastic tour of Rome. We move right across the city and, despite the pace, we’re given time to take it all in. And we’re taken to places that are evoked so strongly we can almost smell their stench. There are also references to the previous Ballista novels – we meet people we’ve met before and that adds something rather special. But, on the whole, this is a novel in which Ballista must survive, endure and win on his own and its edge of seat stuff, it really is.

The best historical fiction entertains while also informing. The Last Hour succeeds in this perfectly, injecting so much accessible information and detail into a novel that is intensely exciting, all packed into a 24-hour period. Harry Sidebottom’s recent and superb Throne of the Caesars trilogy looked at a year that shook the Roman empire to its core. The Last Hour evokes ancient Rome in an entirely different way, focusing on just a few hours in such a narrow space, as it affects such a small group of people. And yet it informs every bit as much. Life in ancient Rome comes alive in The Last Hour and I loved every page of it.

Other reviews
Warrior of Rome I: Fire in the East
Iron and Rust: Throne of the Caesars I
Blood and Steel: Throne of the Caesars II
Fire and Sword: Throne of the Caesars III

I’m delighted to post below a taster from The Last Hour to celebrate the novel’s publication this week.


Another scream echoed up the long passageway, then ended abruptly.

Every breath hurt. Sweat was running off Ballista. Would the stairs ever end? It was like some infernal punishment in myth.

A final corner, and there was the door. All the gods let it be unlocked.

The door opened outwards. Ballista closed it behind him, and leant against it as he fought to regain his breath. Forty-three winters on Middle Earth; too long for this exertion.

The roof garden was gently domed, like a low hill. It rose to where a plinth supported a more than life-sized statue of the Emperor Hadrian in a triumphal chariot drawn by four horses. The terrible storms of the last several days had passed, but the air smelt of rain. The stones underfoot were still wet.

There had to be another way down. Ballista pushed himself off the door, set off up the path to the top.

The sun was dipping towards the horizon. It cast long shadows from the cypress trees, dappled where they were festooned with vines or ivy. Less than an hour until darkness.

Ballista circled the base of the statuary. No door, no trapdoor. Nothing. There had to be another way down. A passageway for gardeners, plants, servants. He looked around wildly.

Under the cypresses the garden was thickly planted with fruit trees and flower beds. Paths radiated out. There were hedges, potted plants, heavy garden furniture, small fountains, more statues. The service access would be carefully hidden. The elite did not want to see slaves when they were enjoying the views. There was no time to search.

Ballista thought of the light wells. No, even if he could find one of them, it would be too narrow, offer no handholds. Another thought came to him. He took the path down to the east.

There was a thin wooden rail above a delicate and ornamental screen along the edge of the garden, with yet more statues at intervals. Ballista did not look at the city spread out beyond the river, barely glanced at the swollen waters of the Tiber at the foot of the monument. He gripped the sculpted marble leg of Antinous, the doomed boy, loved by Hadrian. A Roman might have been troubled by the association. As heir to the different world view of the north, such omens did not bother Ballista. He had a head for heights, and leaned out as far as he dared over the rail.

The cladding of the Mausoleum was white marble. The blocks were so artfully fitted together that there was barely a discernible line where they joined. No hope of a finger hold. Seventy foot or more of smooth, sheer wall down to the base, after that ledge perhaps another forty foot down to the narrow embankment and the river. No way to climb down.

Ballista ran back to the head of the stairs, opened the door. The men were nearing the top.


Caligula by Simon Turney

Orion | 2018 (8 March) | 480p | Review copy | Buy the book

Caligula by Simon TurneyThere are few people in more danger in Tiberius’s Rome than the children of Germanicus. Germanicus, the nephew and adopted son of Tiberius, was Rome’s greatest general of the day, an emperor in waiting. But he is dead and his sons are Tiberius’s heirs while the daughters are pawns in marriage. To be an heir to Tiberius is a dangerous thing, especially with the emperor tucked away on his luxurious island retreat of Capri, having left the business of Rome’s protection to Sejanus, the Prefect of the Praetorian Guard, master of an army. Sejanus hates the children of Germanicus. He wishes them reduced in number. The youngest are sent to Capri to live under the nose of an insane emperor in his villa of games, superstitions and murder. There we meet the youngest child, Livilla, sister of Gaius, a boy known to friends and history alike as Caligula. And it’s Caligula’s story that Livilla tells.

Although the Roman senate stopped short of damning Caligula’s memory after his death, thanks to the influence of his uncle and successor Claudius, history has not been kind to Caligula and the stories of his dissolute life and rule have been hard for authors to resist (I’ll never forget John Hurt’s portrayal of Caligula in the TV adaptation of Robert Graves’ I, Claudius), but was Caligula really as mad as many would have it? And if he was a monster, was he born that way or was he another victim of Rome’s extraordinary imperial family and its ambitious generals and politicians? This is a topic that can’t fail in my eyes and, after a recent spate of novels re-examining or celebrating the monster that was Nero, it’s good news indeed to now find his uncle Caligula in the spotlight.

The figure of Caligula is undoubtedly a gift to an author but it must be done right. And Simon Turney has done a magnificent job of stripping away the infamy and propaganda to reassemble a fresh image of Caligula, as seen through the eyes of an innocent child, his adoring youngest sister Livilla. But that is just the beginning. We meet Caligula as a boy, living at the edge of a lethal court, in daily risk of exile or execution, but with an innate and ingenious talent for survival. The boy we meet at the beginning is not the man we leave at the end and it’s this transformation which is so immensely gripping and fascinating, and original.

It’s easy to focus on Caligula because he is a tour de force throughout this novel, an exceedingly charismatic and gifted individual, who, at least in the early days, is very easy to like. It’s spellbinding watching him grow. But there are other people to watch here, too, including Livilla who herself is altered by events. Her story is every bit as compelling as her brother’s and it made me weep. We grow particularly close to Livilla because she is our eyes and ears. She is often a secret witness, hiding in gardens, behind curtains, around corners. Little escapes Livilla. It’s what she must do with the knowledge she learns that causes her the most pain.

Another character who instantly grabbed is Agrippina, sister to Livilla and Caligula, and perhaps as notorious to history as her brother. This is Nero’s mother in waiting and we all know what happened to her. She is shocking! There’s no rewriting of history here – Agrippina is a nasty piece of work and there can be no excuses. She is, as a result, a page stealer.

Caligula is a beautifully structured and developed novel. I must say that I was surprised that the author picked a female voice for his narrator but he has done a wonderful job in making her feel real and it was an inspired idea to reveal Caligula through her eyes. This is a Caligula I can believe in. It’s a fine psychological portrait of a damaged man, someone who could have been great, who wanted to be great, but instead became a devil. But it also paints a fabulous picture of Rome and Capri. It’s both beautiful and terrifying and Capri in particular is absolutely horrifying, the stuff of nightmares. It’s hardly surprising that Caligula corrupts in such an appalling and hideous manner. It’s a mesmerising, haunting and disturbing transformation and it literally gave me nightmares.

Caligula is an enormous achievement and most definitely one to be proud of. And what a beautiful cover! It’s great news to learn that this is the first in a series and it has a fantastic title – The Damned Emperors! Irresistible! I can’t wait to see who is next for the Turney treatment.

Other reviews and features
Marius’ Mules I: The Invasion of Gaul
Marius’ Mules II: The Belgae
‘Writing historical locations’ – a guest post

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

Palatine by L.J. Trafford

Karnac Books | 2015 | 417p | Review copy | Buy the book

Palatine by LJ TraffordIt is AD 68 and Nero has much more on his mind than simply ruling the Empire that is so lucky to have him. For one thing, Nero fancies himself in love with the perfect specimen of Roman womanhood, a new Poppaea (to replace the one that Nero kicked to death), who just happens to be a eunuch called Sporus. But Nero needn’t worry because while he spends his energy on love and the arts, his private secretary Epaphroditus can look after the dull business of rule, backed up by the two Praetorian Prefects (known as ‘the drunk one’ and ‘the sober one’). But the sober Prefect Sabinus has had enough of the degeneracy of Nero’s court and is keen to take advantage of the rumblings of rebellion coming from elsewhere in the empire, particularly Gaul. The powerful are beginning to shuffle for position, including Galba. It’s only a matter of time.

Palatine is the first in L.J. Trafford’s Four Emperors series, that period of civil war and short reigns that marked the fall of Nero and the ensuing troubled months. Nero is gold dust for authors and clearly L.J. Trafford enjoyed every minute of capturing Nero on paper. And here he is at his dissolute best or worst, depending on your point of view. There’s no end of maidens (senators’ daughters) to deflower and people to murder. At one point he looks for an assassin to do one of his jobs but specifies that he has to be able to speak Greek so that he can recite verse to his victim before killing him. This is Nero at his most deranged and he has turned madness into an artform.

What I enjoyed about Palatine, though, is that much of the events unfold through the eyes and experiences of slaves, servants and the most vulnerable, such as prostitutes. Even Sporus, the enthusiastic eunuch, is allowed his moments as a normal human being caught up in circumstances beyond his control, a young man with friends who love him. Then there is Philo, Epaphroditus’s secretary, who has recently been freed but still serves his master. But now he lives outside the Palace and has to cope with looking after himself without the Palace feeding him, clothing him and putting a roof over his head. Freedom is good but it comes at a cost. And it doesn’t free him from the savagery of those whose job it is to keep slaves in their place with brutality and sexual predation. We are given a fascinating portrait of servitude in Nero’s court in all its shapes and sizes. I really enjoyed this perspective.

Palatine is a tale of salacious goings on and there is a gossipy feel to its style that I found overpowering and too rich at times. There are some moments that made me laugh at loud, there is wit in abundance here, but for me this was overshadowed by the relish with which this decadent court is depicted. There are scenes of utter cruelty but they are lost among the rollicking. This, though, is a matter of personal taste and I can understand why many would find the style of Palatine so enjoyable and fun to read. This is a history and muddle of conspiracies that Suetonius would have revelled in and, if that’s your sort of thing, then you will love it.

For me, though, it’s the descriptions of life below stairs in the imperial court that stands out in Palatine. But we can be in no doubt of what drives everyone – while some must struggle just to stay alive and sane, for others it’s time for change. Nero has to go.

Imperial Vengeance by Ian Ross

Head of Zeus | Ebook: 1 December 2016; Hb: 11 January 2018 | 416p | Review copy | Buy the book

Imperial Vengeance by Ian RossImperial Vengeance is the fifth novel in Ian Ross’s Twilight of Empire series. We have followed Aurelius Castus through many years of service to Constantine, as a centurion in Britain and now as something far grander. While you can read Imperial Vengeance as a stand alone novel, this review assumes that you’ve read the other books in the series and have kept up with the political machinations of Constantine and his wife Fausta.

It is AD 323 and the Roman empire is divided. While Constantine controls Rome itself and the west, Licinius is ruler of Egypt and the East. But Constantine wants it all. Helping Constantine to win his glory is his son Crispus, who rules Gaul as Caesar and has won significant victories over the Germanic tribes across the Rhine. Constantine now calls on Crispus to join him in his expedition to the East, to challenge Licinius in battle on sea and land, and to take from him that jewel of the eastern empire – Byzantium. And how could Constantine fail? Now fully committed to Christianity, Constantine marches with Christ at his side.

Aurelius Castus is Crispus’s supreme military commander. This lofty rank means that he must leave his family once more to do all he can to keep his young master alive and safe. Castus is no longer a young man, he wears the scars of battle, but once more he must lead from the front. But Crispus is not making life easy for him – as Constantine nears his twentieth year of rule, Crispus looks to the example of Diocletian who abdicated his throne for his son on such an occasion. Castus couldn’t be more aware of the potential danger of Crispus’s ambition and the terrible decision that he himself would have to take if son turned against father.

Time has moved on for Castus, now that we’ve reached the fifth novel in the Twilight of Empire series. His children are growing, his stepdaughters marrying, his son eager to follow in his steps, but once more Castus must leave them behind as he strides into the Civil War of the AD 320s. This might be a relatively overlooked period by Roman historical fiction but it more than merits this series of novels. Constantine and his mother Helena are remembered with rather a saintly glow, indeed both were canonised, but Ian Ross paints them warts and all and they are fascinating! I particularly enjoyed the way in which Ian Ross deals with the aged and domineering Helena – she is fearsome indeed – while Constantine, with his jutting jaw, is as capricious and cruel as you’d expect from an emperor who puts nothing, absolutely nothing, above his ambition. By contrast, Crispus is a delight, so charming and handsome, militarily gifted and brave, a young god indeed. And with Fausta thrown into the mix, this is an extraordinary family and I’ve thoroughly enjoyed reading about them in this series. In Imperial Vengeance, Constantine outdoes himself.

Castus has a loyal circle of servants and warriors around him and we’ve followed them all through the novels. While I don’t think that Castus has the colour of his imperial masters, he is perfectly placed to guide us through the conflicts and battles of the day. He is older, as are the men who follow him, and each of them has to make a choice about who they serve. Constantine’s Christian zeal is not easy for these old soldiers to understand. It’s going to be a difficult journey.

At the heart of Imperial Vengeance is its battles and here we find them on land and at sea. This is utterly thrilling (especially the sea battles), packed with historical and military details. I’m no expert on warfare during this period but it all certainly feels real and authentic, while the gore, although there is some, is secondary.

My favourite element of Imperial Vengeance, though, is its depiction of the imperial family. All of these figures are absolutely fascinating, while the dynamic between them is both enthralling and lethal. Ian Ross has secured Constantine a firm place in Roman military historical fiction. He makes me want to learn more about him (I was looking things up as I read along) and that is just what I want from a novel that takes me back into the past.

Other reviews
War at the Edge of the World (Twilight of Empire 1)
Swords Around the Throne (Twilight of Empire 2)
Battle for Rome (Twilight of Empire 3) (with interview)
The Mask of Command (Twilight of Empire 4)

Rome’s Sacred Flame by Robert Fabbri (Vespasian VIII)

Corvus | 2018 (4 January) | 347p | Review copy | Buy the book

Rome's Sacred Flame by Robert FabbriIt is AD 63. Nero is emperor and there is no one who doesn’t fear him – except for the plebeians in the streets that is, who love their indulgent, flamboyant ruler, a man of the people and not of the Senate. But anyone with money or influence is under threat, including the family of Vespasian and his brother Sabinus. You would have thought that Vespasian as governor of Africa would be safe so far from Rome, but not a chance. Vespasian has been ordered deep into the desert to a frontier city kingdom where a tyrant holds hundreds of captured Roman citizens as slaves. It is Vespasian’s task to escort these poor souls back to Roman lands across miles of empty desert. It is a formidable and extreme task.

But Rome is no safer. People compete for Nero’s favour while beholding the emperor’s behaviour at its worst. There are plots and plotters but can anybody really hope to stop the monster? It’s clear, though, that for now things can only get worse.

Rome’s Sacred Flame is the eighth novel in Robert Fabbri’s Vespasian series, which is one of my favourite series of any genre. We have followed Vespasian through the years from childhood – when he was the subject of a great prophecy that continues to shine on him – through the reigns of several emperors, including his one-time friend Caligula, until now when the madness of Rome’s Julio-Claudian line of emperors reaches its heights – or depths. The fact that we know Vespasian’s destiny, while he himself does not, does nothing to detract from the tension and drama of these novels. The time spent waiting for his rise to power is both fascinating and lethal.

Robert Fabbri doesn’t beat around the bush – these emperors were vile men, the perpetrators of horrific crimes, and we’re spared none of it. I’m still getting over Fabbri’s portrayal of Tiberius, but with Nero we behold the devil. Some of this is quite shocking to read, at least for me, particularly the humiliation of the wives and daughters of Rome’s senators, and the terrible deed of crucifixion. I must admit that I found some of this hard to read.

But the grim content is offset by a glorious portrait of Rome during the 1st century AD. Its streets, forum, public buildings and houses are brought to life. And there is a brilliant account of one of the most famous events of this century, hinted at by the title and cover. It’s compelling stuff. Likewise, the chapters set in Africa are extremely dramatic. You can almost feel the heat and the thirst of those who must cross the vast desert.

This period of history is made for novels and Robert Fabbri does such a fine job of blending fact with fiction, reinterpreting some of the key events of the period as well as the personalities of the day, from emperors and consuls to Christian leaders and vigilante troops. Vespasian has changed enormously over the years – decades at the heart of Rome will do that to a man – and he’s not always likeable. In fact, he often isn’t. He’s committed some terrible acts over the years and there’s a powerful and horrifying sense here that now he’s having to pay for it. Rome’s Eternal Flame is, I think, the most emotional of the series, and the most shocking. A couple of scenes had me in tears (once on the bus), while others did repulse me. It’s certainly not a book I ever wanted to put down. I can’t wait for the next one as we approach the fulfilment of the prophecy. There are most definitely, though, more hurdles for Vespasian to overcome.

Other reviews
Vespasian I: Tribune of Rome
Vespasian II: Rome’s Executioner
Vespasian III: False God of Rome
Vespasian IV: Rome’s Fallen Eagle
Vespasian V: Masters of Rome
Vespasian VI: Rome’s Lost Son
Vespasian VII: The Furies of Rome

Arminius: The Limits of Empire

Day of the Caesars by Simon Scarrow

Headline | (2017 (16 November) | 367p | Review copy | Buy the book

Day of the Caesars by Simon ScarrowIt is late AD 54 and the Emperor Claudius is dead. Rumours of murder are circulating around Rome but few dare to utter them outloud. His adopted son Nero now wears the purple, supported by his ambitious, dangerous mother Agrippina. But he needs little of her support – he’s every bit as lethal in his own right. Claudius’s own son, Britannicus, is in a very precarious situation indeed, not least because others look to him as a possible solution to the problem of Nero.

Cato and Macro have arrived back in Rome as heroes after their mission in Hispania. Back within the Praetorian camp, they are positioned better than most to hear the rumblings spreading across the army at the turn of political events, and the lack of their promised gold. Cato, though, has other things on his mind – building a relationship with his young toddler son, Lucius – while Macro has distractions of his own. But it doesn’t seem to matter who’s emperor. They always have jobs in mind for Cato and Macro – and they’re never pretty.

Day of the Caesars is the sixteenth novel in Simon Scarrow’s hugely popular Eagles of the Empire series and it is always good news when Prefect Cato and Centurion Macro return. I’ve loved these two for years and have followed their exploits across the empire with pleasure. This time they’re back in Rome but Rome has never been more dangerous. But Rome is home for Cato and Macro and so we watch them try to put their private lives back together again after months away, finding some comfort, while at the same time we worry for them as the murky and complex world of politics and conspiracies threatens them and their plans from every side.

It’s difficult to imagine a more dangerous period in Roman history than the middle of the 1st century AD. I’ve enjoyed several novels about Nero over the last year and it’s rather refreshing that, in Day of the Caesars, no apologies are made for Nero – he’s as nasty and terrifying as history would have him. There is a scene early on which sets the tone for Nero and while I found it repulsive it certainly achieved its aim in summing Nero up. This is a man to hate. But this is Roman politics and, as such, there’s little to admire in any of the factions and nothing is straightforward. I enjoyed the tangled plot that Simon Scarrow has constructed here. It’s tense but it’s also thrilling and it has the whole of Rome in its grip.

This is most definitely historical fiction. Liberties are taken with events and with historical figures. But that matters little because this is the story of Cato and Macro – two fictional characters at the centre of events that are constructed around them. But the picture of the city of Rome itself is so well drawn, particularly its depiction of the city’s lethal poorer tenements. As usual, though, I have some issues with the author’s portrayal of women – none of the women featured here do well out of it.

In some ways, Day of the Caesars feels like a stepping stone novel. It informs us of what is going on in Rome while moving Cato and Macro from Spain to their next posting. As a result, I don’t think this is the best of the series but it’s certainly hugely entertaining, exciting and thrilling. Time spent with Cato and Macro is always time well spent and now that the sixteenth is read, I’ll look forward to the seventeenth which, just like all of the others, will go straight to the top of my reading pile.

Other reviews
The Blood Crows
Brothers in Blood
With T.J. Andrews – Invader