Category Archives: Roman

Memento Mori by Ruth Downie

Bloomsbury | 2018 (1 April) | 408p | Review copy | Buy the book

Memento Mori by Ruth DownieRoman citizen and former military doctor Ruso is now living a settled life on the northern fringe of the Roman empire on what is effectively a major building site – Hadrian is building his Wall – alongside his British wife Tilla. Their customs might be different but life is good especially now that they have Mara, their adopted baby daughter to worry about. But life takes a jolt when an old friend Albanus, Ruso’s former clerk, turns up exhausted after the huge effort of rushing up all of the way from Aquae Sulis (now Bath) to bring Ruso some disturbing news. The wife of Ruso’s best friend Valens has been found drowned in the sacred springs and her father has accused Valens of her murder. The governor is due to visit Aquae Sulis in just a few days and Valens will stand trial before him. There’s nothing for it. Ruso, his wife, child, his entire entourage, must head south in a hurry to prove his innocence. Hoping, of course, that he is actually innocent.

Memento Mori is the eighth novel in Ruth Downey’s hugely entertaining and, I think, really rather sophisticated Roman mystery series featuring Ruso and his independently-minded and rather flakey wife Tilla. The author does a fantastic job of bring the Roman empire to life during the 2nd century AD, especially Britannia. After Ruso’s adventures in Rome itself during the last novel Vita Brevis, I enjoyed seeing Ruso’s return to the homeland of his wife and the ancient city of Bath or Aquae Sulis, with all of its strange customs, brought to life.

At the heart of the novel is Aquae Sulis itself, a magnet for some of the strangest people of Roman Britain, straddling as it does beliefs from both ancient Britain and from the Roman Empire. Druids and Roman soldiers live side by side, with wild priestesses even forming romantic liaisons with grouchy old Roman centurions, and any problem is believed solvable with a spell or a curse. This is a great setting for a mystery and Ruth Downie does such a fine job of filling the streets, temples and baths of this well-known archaeological and historical site with living, breathing people.

I did find that the mystery itself took second place to the superb setting and to the novel’s mood. It is clear that so much research has gone into telling this story right but it’s used lightly. This is wonderful prose, laced through with wit and warmth, and it’s a joy to read. Memento Mori is one of those novels that you pick up and before you know it you’re sucked in to it, loving the way in which it’s written. There are also so many details about Roman life in Britain – religion, death, marriage, rituals, daily life, slaves, soldiers, natives and occupiers – there’s something going on in every direction.

I’m such a fan of this series. I love Ruso and I am warming to Tilla (she does have an alarming tendency to just wander off, here with a shovel) and so these are books I always look forward to. And they look so handsome! Ruth Downie writes so brilliantly and I love the Roman world as we see it through her eyes and those of her Roman doctor, Ruso.

Other reviews
Semper Fidelis
Vita Brevis

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The Encircling Sea by Adrian Goldsworthy

Head of Zeus | 2018 (1 June) | 370p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Encircling Sea by Adrian GoldsworthyIt is about 100 AD, Trajan is on the throne far away in Rome, and centurion Flavius Ferox is doing his best to keep the peace along the empire’s northernmost fringe. Ferox is perfect for the job, bridging both worlds. Born a prince of the Silures tribe of southern Britannia, he is now a well-respected Roman officer, albeit one who likes to keep his head down, avoiding the attention of the rich, powerful and political. But Ferox is not going to have things his own way.

Time might have passed since the recent deadly Druid threat, but more rebels are again making their presence felt, irritating their Roman occupiers. It’s bad timing. Rome wants to impress the kings of Hibernia (Ireland), who are currently competing for the role of chief king. A meeting is about to take place on the British coast and the forces of Vindolanda and its neighbouring forts will be in attendance. Ferox will be there playing a crucial role. And he’s worried.

The Encircling Sea is the second novel by Adrian Goldsworthy to feature Ferox, looking at life on the northern fringes of empire, a couple of decades before Hadrian built his Wall across this landscape. Vindolanda is already a large and busy fort, and it’s Ferox’s job to move regularly between the forts, settling disputes, looking out for trouble, keeping it peaceful. It pays to have read the earlier novel Vindolanda first because then you’ll have more of an idea of his complicated relationship with Cerialis, the Batavi prefect in charge of Vindolanda, and, most particularly, his beautiful wife Sulpicia Lepidina. But, if this is the first novel you read of the Vindolanda seres, you’ll have no trouble picking up the story’s threads.

The Encircling Sea presents a whole new and self-contained adventure, this time featuring the strange dark men who come at night in their boats from the sea. They appear to be targeting certain individuals in their raids but it’s not easy for Ferox and his second-in-command, the Brigantian Vindex, to work out the purpose of the attacks. But what is clear is that these pirates will use deadly force to achieve their goals. A lot of people are going to die. Very nastily.

As before, The Encircling Sea resonates with the insight and knowledge of its author, the historian Adrian Goldsworthy. This is supported by the extraordinary archaeological discoveries that have been made at Vindolanda over the years. Many of the people in this novel were real. They walked those excavated streets and lived in those buildings, now uncovered. They are named in tablets and it’s likely that even their shoes have been found. It’s evocative for sure and Adrian Goldsworthy captures all of that.

This is a novel in which, for me, the historical setting wins first place over its story. The author undoubtedly brings the border to life, especially for its soldiers and their wives, but the plot does fall rather flat and a little laboured in my opinion. It never becomes as exciting as it could be, nor as engaging. I enjoyed the repartee between Ferox and Crispinus and I really liked Crispinus, their young and witty commander, but they are let down a little by some of the dialogue, especially when words such as ‘humping’ or ‘humped’ are used in place of the more expected curses. This isn’t done as much as in the first novel, thank heavens, but it still stands out. It all feels a little strained, and restrained. I did, though, appreciate the historical notes at the end.

Adrian Goldsworthy undoubtedly knows his stuff and I love seeing the archaeological remains of Vindolanda brought to life in his pages. And that is undoubtedly the main strength of The Encircling Sea. I must also mention that this is another beautiful hardback from Head of Zeus.

Other review
Vindolanda

Clash of Empires by Ben Kane

Orion | 2018 (17 May) | 448p | Review copy | Buy the book

Clash of Empires by Ben KaneIt is 202 BC and Rome’s legions are about to defeat the Carthaginians once at for all at the Battle of Zuma in North Africa. Facing Hannibal’s formidable elephants and army, it’s a chance for reputations to be made, but a handful of Roman soldiers are about to land in a whole heap of trouble. Legionary Felix has not been particularly well named. As for Rome itself, its senators and generals might have thought that they could enjoy the benefits of peace for a while after such a long, bloody war. But King Philip of Macedon has other ideas. Determined to reclaim lands once conquered by his ancestor, the father of the great Alexander, he is stirring up Greece, as well as the cities and tribes of the eastern Mediterranean and Aegean who look to Rome for help against Philip. The wily Senator Flamininus sees an opportunity. If he can lead the Roman army to victory over Philip, there will be no end to his power and influence. Unfortunately, not everyone in Rome agrees with his ambition.

This is Greece’s last chance to put upstart Republican Rome in its place. But Rome is determined to rise and conquer Philip just as it did Hannibal. As the old and new world clash, it’s the ordinary soldiers on both sides who must win the victory, suffer the defeat and pay the price.

Clash of Empires is the first novel in Ben Kane’s new series, which takes us back to a critical time in Rome’s history, to a war that has been overshadowed by the Punic Wars, just as Philip of Macedon has been overshadowed by his illustrious ancestors. A new book by Ben Kane is always cause for celebration and I loved the premise of Clash of Empires. The idea of these two cultures taking each other on, one with a glorious past against the other with a spectacular future ahead, in a great epic showdown is so appealing. This is a period of Roman history that I know very little about and I welcomed the chance to have my eyes opened.

Clash of Empires is a fantastic book. There’s so much going on and nothing in this war is going to be easy. I love the way that the action shifts as we move between ordinary soldiers on both sides as well as between the major players – Flamininus, and his colleagues in the Senate, and King Philip. Flamininus in particular has long-term goals. He’s a strategist, working out the best way in which to achieve them. Soldiers like the Roman Felix and the Macedonian Demetrios have more immediate concerns – when they’ll be able to get some sleep, more food, how not to be afraid, how not to be killed. We’re given reasons to like both men and therefore both sides. I particularly enjoyed being shown how the Greek phalanx worked, their use of the spear, their formation and so on. There are some brilliant fight scenes in Clash of Empires. Ben Kane knows his subject inside out and we’re informed as well as entertained.

There are sequences here that are so exhilarating and thrilling, when our two sides come together, man against man. This is exciting stuff. There are other moments of incredible brutality, particularly in the Roman army. There is one moment in particular that is shocking. Ben Kane writes graphically, we’re not spared the details, and it is all the more compelling and immersive for it. Sometimes we see the same scene from different Greek and Roman perspectives as these two cultures come face to face.

The character of Flamininus is fascinating and through him we’re given an intriguing glimpse into the politics of Republican Rome. I really liked this mix of power politics with the nitty gritty of life and death on the frontline of war.

Clash of Empires is the first in a series and we’re left wanting more. Expect no resolution here. Instead we’re immersed in the beginnings of the final struggle between those two great powers of ancient Europe – Greece and Rome – and it is bloody, with disasters and very few triumphs on both sides. I can’t wait to see what happens next. Ben Kane’s last series, which began with Eagles at War, is superb and a very hard act to follow. Clash of Empires does the job brilliantly.

Other reviews
Hannibal: Enemy of Rome
Hannibal: Fields of Blood
Hannibal: Clouds of War
Spartacus
Spartacus: Rebellion
Eagles at War
Hunting the Eagles
Eagles in the Storm
(with others) A Day of Fire: a novel of Pompeii

Retribution: Centurions III by Anthony Riches

Hodder & Stoughton | 2018 (19 April) | 402p | Review copy | Buy the book

Retribution completes Anthony Riches’ superb Centurions trilogy, the dramatic and thrilling portrayal of the Batavi Revolt that followed the death of Nero in AD 68 and ended in AD 70. You couldn’t read Retribution without having read the previous two novels – Betrayal and Onslaught – and so this review assumes you’ve done just that.

It is January AD 70 and the Roman forces under siege by the Batavi at the Old Camp on the Rhine are nearing the end of what they can endure. For months they have held off the Batavi but now, with nothing left to eat, the four thousand men inside have little choice. All eyes are watching how Kivilaz, the Batavi prince and leader, deals with the surrender. Because it’s clear to many now that it’s only a matter of time before the Batavi are defeated, bringing this bloody civil war to an end. Vespasian is now emperor, his legions (which have sworn loyalty to a string of emperors) are behind him and one or two of them have something to prove, especially the famous Twenty-First Rapax which is marching northwards with fiery zeal and determination in every step. But one thing is sure – the Batavi are not going to give up without a fight. More lives will be lost, more blood will be spilled. How can the northern Roman empire survive this?

In Retribution, Anthony Riches continues the story of four centurions – two Roman, two Batavi – although now the action is pared down to several key events as each of our centurions faces a crisis that brings with it the risk of deadly consequences. I’m mentioning no names here because you need to find out for yourselves which of them will live to fight another day but you can be assured that each of them knows what is demanded of them and no quarter will be given.

This is Roman military fiction at its very best, not least because we have been given the context for this war. These three novels cover just two years. Time has been spent on exploring the origins of the war, the motives of its main proponents, as well as the daily routine of soldiers on the march and in battle, on both sides. Time is given to both Batavi and Romans. There is good and bad, right and wrong on both sides. The Roman leadership is well aware that it is to blame for the revolt in the first place, for sending the imperial Batavi bodyguard home from Rome in disgrace after the death of Nero. But this has almost become irrelevant now that the war has escalated to include other Germanic tribes. Peace will not be won easily.

The action sequences in Retribution are outstanding. There are soldiers here on both sides that we’ve got to know very well and it’s heart in the mouth stuff to watch them all in such peril, fighting for their lives and those of their comrades. We feel the benefit of Anthony Riches’ detailed knowledge of Roman warfare. We’re thrown into the heart of it all. But there’s also a human cost to this that goes beyond falling in battle – what these soldiers witness and endure leaves scars, mental and physical. There are atrocities on both sides which are harrowing to read about. Civilians suffer. Bravery and courage are often rewarded with death. It all makes this war feel very real, bringing the past to life.

The previous books in the trilogy rewarded a close reading due to the large number of characters with similar names in forts scattered along the Rhine. Once more, in Retribution, we’re given a useful list of characters and maps, but Retribution is an easier novel to follow. Events are building to a head, everyone is in their place, and we’re much clearer about who is who. The writing in this trilogy is very good indeed. It’s vigorous, precise, exciting, with the barracks language kept to the minimum to be used when and where it matters most.

The Centurions trilogy is a triumph with Retribution quite possibly my favourite of all of Anthony Riches’ novels – and I’ve read and loved every single one of them. The trilogy presents an informative and fascinating overview of this critical period of Roman history, giving fair time to all sides, while also honing in on certain people and places, showing how this devastating war affected the ordinary soldier as well as the men who commanded them. Roman military historical fiction does not get better than this.

Other reviews and features
Empire I: Wounds of Honour
Empire II: Arrows of Fury
Empire III: Fortress of Spears
Empire IV: The Leopard Sword
Empire V: The Wolf’s Gold
Empire VI: The Eagle’s Vengeance
Empire VII: The Emperor’s Knives
Empire VIII: Thunder of the Gods
Empire IX: Altar of Blood
Betrayal: The Centurions I
Onslaught: The Centurions II
An interview for The Eagle’s Vengeance
An interview for The Emperor’s Knives

Pandora’s Boy by Lindsey Davis

Hodder & Stoughton | 2018 (5 April) | 387p | Review copy | Buy the book

Pandora's Boy by Lindsey DavisWhen Laia Gratiana, the ex-wife of her new husband, turns up on the doorstep with a mystery for Flavia Albia to solve, Albia isn’t too sure that she wants to get involved. Laia Gratiana is, after all, odious. But Albia can tell that her husband Faustus’s curiosity has been tickled and it is a very tragic case. The very young Clodia Volumnia has been found dead in her room in the house of her parents. She was their only daughter (their son is serving in the army) and her death has ripped this family apart. Her mother has left the house to stay with her own mother, leaving her husband and his mother to it. Their future together is at an end. It is rumoured that Clodia was in love and that she died by swallowing a love potion that she was given by the mysterious, enigmatic, and perhaps rather dangerous, Pandora.

And then Faustus, a man who has never been the same since he was struck by lightning on their wedding day, disappears. There is nothing for it. Albia must distract herself from her worry in the best way she can – she must solve the mystery of Clodia’s death and uncover the truth about Pandora, a woman who seems to have the fashionable world of Rome’s Quirinal district in her thrall.

Pandora’s Boy is the sixth novel in Lindsey Davis’s Flavia Albia series and in my opinion it’s certainly one of the best. There’s something very comforting about being taken back into this world, so lovingly and meticulously painted by Lindsey Davis, who knows Rome of the 1st century AD inside out. Falco, Albia’s much loved father (as if anyone needs reminding about the Marcus Didius Falco books), has a little bit more of a presence in this novel, albeit in the wings, and I really enjoyed this connection that Albia has to the past, the little mentions about her wonderful mother Helena, her references to her father and his friends.

In Pandora’s Boy we’re taken to a new area of Rome, the Quirinal, and it is wonderfully evoked – its bars, its homes, beauty parlours, bath houses, restaurants, taste in food and religion, and so on. It is a place of leisure and pleasure but it is not necessarily as it appears. There are gangs in control here, just as there are across the rest of Rome, and it doesn’t pay to look too closely below the surface. Lindsey Davis looks particularly at the lives of the young – teenagers for want of a better term for Roman youths. The lives of young girls and boys of a certain class were mapped out for them, and for girls an early marriage was likely, and so it’s not surprising that they might want to rebel. I loved how this is done.

As always in these novels there are some very funny touches, and a lot of the humour in this novel is to do with the particularly well-favoured Greek god of lettuce. But there is plenty more here to laugh about while at the same time feeling the poignancy and tragedy of the mystery’s focus – poor Clodia – as well as another death in the novel which I found really upsetting. This clash of light and dark is really well done in Pandora’s Boy. Another aspect of the novel that I really enjoyed were its little details about Roman life, in this case especially food.

I love the relationship between Albia and her husband Faustus. I was worried about the aftermath of the lightning strike a novel or two ago and rather wished that it hadn’t have happened but finally there is light at the end of the tunnel. Albia is drawn so beautifully. She feels so real, despite being such a mix of modern and ancient. I found Pandora’s Boy to be completely engrossing and a joy from start to finish.

Other reviews
Enemies at Home
Deadly Election
The Graveyard of the Hesperides
The Third Nero

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.

Extract

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