Tag Archives: Rome

Emperor of Rome by Robert Fabbri

Corvus | 2019 (3 January) | 349p | Review copy | Buy the book

Emperor of Rome by Robert FabbriWith Emperor of Rome, the ninth book in his engrossing Vespasian series, Robert Fabbri reaches the year AD 68 – the prophecy that has shadowed Vespasian for almost all of his life is about to come true. At last, Vespasian will become Emperor of Rome. This final novel completes the life and career of Vespasian and those closest to him. To feel the full weight of these significant events, I would recommend that you read the series from the start. We’ve got to know Vespasian, his family, friends, servants and enemies over the years. We’ve watched them change. Their time has come.

I’ve loved this series from the beginning, from the early days when the young outsider Vespasian arrived in Rome and started to climb up the political and military ladder, deftly manoeuvering a path through the dangerous whims and fantasies of infamous, deadly, jealous emperors such as Tiberius, Caligula and Nero, even befriending them on occasion. Vespasian’s relationship with Caligula was particularly intriguing while the displays of barbaric cruelty by Tiberius and Nero are unforgettable. Somehow Vespasian always survived but now, in the aftermath of the death of Nero and during the succession of brief, petty emperors, Vespasian’s life has never been less secure. In Emperor of Rome we see how Vespasian has learned the lessons of a life lived at the height of Roman imperial politics.

But Vespasian was a soldier above all else and much of Emperor of Rome follows the general’s campaign, with his son Titus beside him, against the Jews in Judaea. As a result, there is plenty of military action in these pages and once more Robert Fabbri shows his knowledge of Roman warfare, especially siege warfare. It’s gripping stuff. But offsetting this is the utter barbarism with which the defeated Jews are treated and their religion almost destroyed. This might be set 2000 years ago but at times it’s still not easy to read. Vespasian has shown his cruel side before in this series and he does so again here and more often. Vespasian has changed so much over the years. And yet how could he have survived otherwise? Then there are all the terrible things that he’s witnessed, particularly in the previous novel. But it still leaves an unpleasant taste. It’s a fascinating portrait of the corruption of power. And yet Vespasian still considers himself ‘good’, although he does retain some pleasing self-irony.

The relationship between Vespasian and his sons and also with his longterm lover (and ex-slave) Caenis are particularly fascinating. History tells us what will become of Vespasian’s younger son Domitian and the warning signs are here for Vespasian to ignore (perhaps intentionally). On the other hand, the elder son Titus has rather a glowing reputation but we see a bit more to him here. The suggestion that Titus did his father’s dirty work so that Vespasian could be adored is really interesting. And did he really consider treachery towards his father? As I say, fascinating! Caenis is a strange one. She’s endured more than most because of her position but she’s found the best way to survive – through the manipulation of other people’s power. She, too, has grown bored by cruelty. She barely blinks an eye when she sees it played out before her. I found this chilling. This strange Roman family.

Vespasian is no longer a man I can like and this did affect my enjoyment of the book a little, I must confess. As did the repetitive ‘my love’ uttered by Caenis to Vespasian almost every time she opens her mouth – this is a very minor point but it did get to me after a while. But I was swept away by the scope of the story and the fulfilment of Vespasian’s destiny. After all these years, after nine books, the time has arrived. Emperor of Rome tells such a compelling story while depicting the way in which Vespasian used his military and political knowledge to shape the empire to suit him. It moves between Judaea, Alexandria and Rome and brings this ancient world to life, blending military action with political intrigue.

It isn’t easy to say goodbye to a series that I’ve looked forward to each year for a fair few years now. They’ve always gone straight to the top of my reading pile and there’s going to be quite a gap without them. The end of Emperor of Rome tells us where Robert Fabbri will be heading next – to the aftermath of Alexander the Great’s death. I cannot wait. But, in the meantime, if you haven’t read the Vespasian books, now is the perfect time to do so. The completion of this marvellous, ambitious series is a wonderful achievement that deserves to be celebrated. Bravo, Robert Fabbri!

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
Vespasian VIII: Rome’s Sacred Flame
Arminius: The Limits of Empire

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Guest post by Ian Ross, author of Triumph in Dust

The Twilight of Rome series by Ian Ross has given me such reading pleasure over the last few years. Set during the early years of the 4th century AD, the books provide such a fascinating and thrilling portrait of a divided Roman empire at war, covering the rise to power of one of Rome’s most famous (but perhaps not that well known in fiction) emperors Constantine the Great. The centurion Aurelius Castus, a fantastic hero, is placed at the heart of events and it is gripping stuff. In January, the series comes to a close with the sixth book, Triumph in Dust. This obviously makes me sad as I’ll miss it but I’m really excited to see how it will end – for Rome and for Castus. I’ll be posting a review of the novel closer to its publication in hardback on 10 January but the ebook will be available from 1 December. To celebrate the occasion, I’m delighted to join the blog tour with a guest post by Ian Ross on how he picked this particular period of Roman history to bring alive in the Twilight of Rome series.

War at the Edge of the World by Ian RossGuest post

You decide that you want to write a series of novels, following the adventures of a single character through an epic period of history. You’ve always been fascinated by the ancient Roman world, so that seems the ideal setting; but Rome endured for over half a millennium, and featured a wealth of extraordinary events; how do you narrow it down?

You want to choose a period that will allow you the widest geographical scope. You also need a cast of engaging historical figures, familiar to the educated reader but not over-represented in fiction. You want to steer your stories as close as possible to recorded facts, so you need a well documented era, but one with sufficient breadth of uncertainty to allow your imagination free rein. Lastly, of course, you need to choose a setting with the greatest possible dramatic potential, a time of wars and uprisings, plots and intrigues, a moment when the certainties of the past are being overthrown, and a single man – or woman – can rise from obscurity to take a guiding role in great events.

It’s strange to consider, as I reach the conclusion of my ‘Twilight of Empire’ series – the sixth and final book, Triumph in Dust, is published in January – that I did once ask myself these questions. But for me, there could only have been one answer. Years before, when I lived in Sicily, I had visited the ruins of the Roman villa at Piazza Armerina, and seen the fabulous floor mosaics, dating from the early 4th century AD, showing scenes of daily life: soldiers and hunters, aristocrats and slaves, all in dazzling colour. I soon realised that the thirty-year reign of the Emperor Constantine would provide an ideal framing chronology. From his first acclamation at York in AD306, Constantine’s bloody and dramatic rise to sole power would give me a powerful narrative arc, around which my story could evolve. He was also the first emperor to adopt Christianity, and the revolutionary changes in religion would add an extra social dimension to the turmoil of the era.

Imperial Vengeance by Ian RossBut I did not want to tell the story of Constantine himself; instead I wanted to view his world through the eyes of a figure on the periphery of power, a man who could move freely between the frontiers and the very heart of the empire. And so my protagonist was born: Aurelius Castus begins the first novel as a common soldier, recently promoted to centurion of a legion in northern Britain. His adventurous career will take him through the greatest battles of the age, and right across the Roman world from the barbarian wilderness to the palaces of the emperors, then onward to the distant eastern frontiers, as he scales towards the dangerous summit of power.

Now, even as I consider future projects, and once more ask myself those same questions about setting, I know that the world of the ‘Twilight of Empire’ novels will always endure in my imagination. Historical fiction gives us a way of encountering familiarity in the strangeness of the past.

Reviews and posts
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)
Imperial Vengeance (Twilight of Empire 5)

Emperor Rome: The Splendour Before the Dark by Margaret George

Macmillan | 2018 (15 November) | 571p | Review copy | Buy the book

Emperor Nero: The Splendour Before the Dark by Margaret GeorgeIt is AD 64 and the Emperor is in his villa in Antium, to the south of Rome, where he performs his own epic on the Fall of Troy for his appreciative audience of friends and fellow artists. It is while Nero is there that an exhausted messenger arrives from Rome and tells him that the city is burning. The Great Fire of Rome has begun and it is threatening everything in its path, including Nero’s own palace. Nero immediately rides back to Rome as fast as he can, determined to fight the fire with his own hands, alongside the fire officers and crews who are working day and night to save the city. What Nero experiences over the coming days and nights will change him forever, but it will also give his vision new expression – Nero will rebuild Rome. Its splendour will astonish the world.

The Splendour Before Rome completes Margaret George’s superb and original portrait of Rome’s most famous and infamous emperor that began with The Confessions of Young Nero. In the first novel we saw Nero’s rise to power, his transformation from the unknown young child Lucius into heir to Claudius’s throne, finally becoming emperor himself. It was a part of Nero’s life largely controlled and steered by his notorious mother Agrippina, whose fate forms such a central role in the first book and in the emperor’s life. It is from that point that Margaret George now resumes her story, covering the period from the Great Fire of Rome – possibly the most well-known event of Nero’s reign – through to the very end. You can read The Splendour Before Rome without having read The Confessions of Young Nero first, but I wouldn’t recommend it.

The Nero that presents himself to us here – for most of the novel is written in Nero’s own words – is not one that I’ve met before, and I’ve read a lot of wonderful books over the years that feature him. Margaret George explains in her afterword that she believes that Nero has been unfairly treated by Roman commentators, who had their own agenda to maintain, leading to a whole series of rumours that were perpetuated by later historians, not to mention Hollywood. Whether you agree with this or not, Margaret George here pulls together the strands of Nero’s life, finding the roots of some of the gossip that grew up around him, while also presenting a fascinating portrait of what absolute power can do to a young man who’d really much rather race chariots and compose heroic verse than rule an empire. It’s an intriguing mix. In one sense, we’re given reasons to explain why Nero was regarded as he was by historians, but conversely we’re also given glimpses of a man who failed in the one role he couldn’t maintain – emperor. He is both misunderstood and flawed.

Nero is conflicted and his self-awareness of this is a truly fascinating element of Margaret George’s treatment of him. Nero talks of the dark Nero, the third Nero, that will do anything to keep alive his other two Neros – the emperor and the artist. We’ve seen in the first book what his dark side will make Nero do but in this second book Nero does his best to suppress the evil. Instead he wants to focus on the arts and also on his passion for chariot racing, a cause of great scandal to Rome’s elite. The senate is shocked by Nero’s decision to go to Greece and compete in all of its festivals (all compressed into one year on his orders). Nero seems oblivious to how he is perceived by Rome and carries on regardless, but there are clues for us that this cannot end well.

Nero is oblivious to other things as well – how people will regard his great Golden House that he will build across much of the city’s centre, and then there’s the enormous colossus statue of himself that will tower over Rome. Nero genuinely believes that the people around him are his friends. He accepts their criticisms because he is a humble artist and that is what artists must do – they will always have their critics. But there comes a time when he will learn the truth about what they really think about him. And he is amazed.

The emperor might have his enemies but he is also loves and is loved and we see that here, especially in the figure of his wife Poppaea but also in his first love, Acte. The fate of Poppaea is dealt with so well while Acte is given occasional chapters as narrator, revealing another side to young Lucius, as she will always regard him. And then there’s the tragic figure of Sporus.

Certain infamous deeds of Nero’s reign seem to take place in the shadows, especially the persecution of the Christians in the aftermath of the fire. It’s as if Nero can distance himself from these acts. It’s described almost as if it’s a dream. Nero seems proud that he’s never hurt anyone with his own hands but, as emperor, with power over life and death, this is a meaningless belief. Especially as many are forced to die by their own hand. I really loved this conflict between Nero’s view of himself and the view of others that we’re given tantalising glimpses of – the Nero who makes decisions about the government of the empire without consulting his senate, who evicts people to seize their land for his own palace, the extravagance of that palace. At times he is deeply saddened when people he loves seem not to love him back. He struggles to explain why when we can see it as clear as day. He is also very superstitious. He is a man who lives in dread of his fate while seeing signs to it all around. Nero is also an outsider – at odds with the ideal of Roman martial masculinity. There is no doubt that he is looked down upon. At times, one might almost feel pity for him. Almost.

I love these two books. Aside from the drama of Nero’s own conflicted personality, there are dramas of other kinds – the fire is described brilliantly as we follow its destructive path across the ancient city, burning its temples and holy places. It’s impossible not to warm to Nero the fire fighter. The chariot racing scenes are thrilling and I really enjoyed the chapters spent on Nero’s great cultural tour of Greece. Then there’s the great love affair of Nero and Poppaea, which is treated here in a wholly original way. Poppaea is such an unusual woman, as was Nero’s mother, and Margaret George does wonders in bringing such complex personalities to life.

I have enjoyed Margaret George’s ‘autobiographies’ for many years and her portrait of Nero is a fine addition to them. Here we have Nero as he may have been. Perhaps as Nero might have recognised himself. This remarkable, flawed, possibly mad, individual here gets the chance to speak for himself and his words are never less than riveting.

Other review
The Confessions of Young Nero

The Blood of Rome by Simon Scarrow

Headline | 2018 (15 November) | 369p | Review copy | Buy the book

The Blood of Rome by Simon ScarrowIt is AD 55 and Tribune Cato and his chief centurion Macro must once again go to war. This time they are to be sent east. Rome has a new and very young Emperor, Nero, who must quickly make a demonstration of power. Opportunity comes from Armenia. The mighty Parthian Empire has ousted King Rhadamistus of Armenia and replaced him with a king of their own. Rome will not tolerate a Parthian puppet state so close to its eastern border, nor will such a display of aggression be permitted. General Corbulo is despatched to put Rhadamistus back on his throne.

But Corbulo has grander designs. While he focuses on preparing for war against Parthia itself, he sends Cato and Macro ahead to escort Rhadamistus back to his kingdom. It will be a fearful journey, one from which Cato and Macro are not expected to return alive, but the most difficult challenge facing Cato and his men is Rhadamistus himself, for Rhadamistus is a monster.

The Blood of Rome is the seventeenth novel in Simon Scarrow’s Eagles of the Empire series, better known to many of us as the Cato and Macro series. I have read and loved this series for years and I look forward every year to each new book. It’s fair to say that The Blood of Rome follows on the heels of a run of particularly brilliant novels in the series and, with such a standard to be measured against, it turned out to be, for this reader anyway, one of the least successful of the books. This isn’t to say that there isn’t much to enjoy here, as there is. Cato and Macro are indefatigable as always in their drive to entertain us while they attempt to put the Roman Empire to rights, sword in hand, at great risk to themselves and to those they love.

The mood of The Blood of Rome is dominated by the figure of King Rhadamistus, a despicable excuse for a human being (let alone for a king), and his behaviour hangs over the novel and events like a black shadow. The fact that he’s merciless towards his own men, however, is not the worst of his crimes in my book – that honour falls to what he does to Cato. Cato descends into the depths during The Blood of Rome. He is damaged by what he sees. I think that Simon Scarrow treats the subject of traumatised soldiers well here. There is no reason to believe that soldiers in antiquity were exempt. But what I did have trouble with is how Cato acts out of character and on occasion acts with deliberate cruelty. There is one incident in particular (and you’ll know the one I mean when you read the book) that shocked me absolutely, and not in a good way. And I’m not sure it fits with this series of novels. Macro continues to act in the same loveable way which makes Cato’s new behaviour even harder to deal with, for this reader at least.

This is also one of the more violent books of the series. I have nothing against violence in Roman military historical fiction (as that would be daft!) but the increase of it reflects the book’s darkened mood and the state of Cato’s mind. Cato’s attitude towards women also continues to cause me a few problems. There’s a casual callousness, a dislike, in the way he treats them, as if he were always the innocent. Which he is not.

Having said all that, I found the final third of the novel more enjoyable and I became wrapped up in the Armenian power struggle and the thrilling action sequences that drive the book on. Cato’s relationship with Macro is so entertaining to watch. There are some fascinating details about Roman warfare here, especially the use of siege weaponry, and this campaign, which was so important to Nero, is one that deserves attention. It’s an incredible story. The fact that most people are still in ignorance about the new emperor’s character also tantalises for the future. As always, I look forward to the next outing for Cato and Macro and hope that Cato can find some peace (while still fighting a war, if you see what I mean!).

Other reviews
The Blood Crows
Brothers in Blood
Britannia
Invictus
Day of the Caesars
With T.J. Andrews – Invader

Family Commitments by David Wishart

Self-published | 2017 | 280p| Bought copy | Buy the book

Family Commitments by David WishartIt is May, AD44, and purple-striper Marcus Corvinus and his wife Perilla are back in Rome after their eventful jaunt around Gaul. Marcus would like the world to believe that he’s happy spending his days crawling around Rome’s bars, putting the world to rights, untroubled by crimes to solve. They’d be wrong. He is, in fact, at a bit of a loose end. This fortunate state won’t last long. Firstly, Marcus’ mother comes round convinced that Marcus’ stepfather, a man who has always seemed to favour antiques over women, is having an affair, insisting that Marcus should find out exactly what’s going on. And then Marcus’ butler Bathyllus starts to get that guilty, pale and ill look. It’s not surprising. His brother, a fellow slave, has turned up after many years and he’s on the run, wanted for the murder of his master. Marcus has no choice but to help out and that’s when it all starts to go wrong. This is no straightforward case. Marcus should have run a mile.

Family Commitments is the nineteenth (not the twentieth as the back of the cover says) of David Wishart’s fantastic Marcus Corvinus series. This series has had more than one publisher over the years and I’ve worried for its future but the good news is that, although I’ll miss those elegant Severn House editions and wish Corvinus still had a home with them, the author is now publishing the books independently. I’m hoping this means that we’ll get many more of them and I’m very keen to give them my support. If you haven’t read this marvellous series, please do! Set during the first half of the 1st century AD, they bring this fascinating period of Roman history alive. And Marcus and Perilla are both perfectly placed to comment on it – they’re patrician, very well-connected and even know emperors personally, including the really bad ones. It also means that the crimes Marcus investigates are particularly juicy. As this crime especially demonstrates.

You can enjoy each of these novels as standalone mysteries but there is so much pleasure to be had reading this series. I’ll never stop enjoying Marcus, quite possibly my favourite Roman detective. He likes to think he’s satirical, when actually he’s rather sarcy, but he’s most certainly witty, likes a goblet of wine or three, and has his hands full trying to manage the staff while trying and failing to maintain his air of studied aloof detachment. The fact that their chef Meton is a genius with flavours does much to make up for his psychopathic temperament while Bathyllus, the long-suffering butler, has fine-tuned his sardonic attitude into an art form. He is, though, the perfect major domo. And Marcus Corvinus will do anything he can for him. Perilla does all that a matron restricted by strict patrician codes of conduct can do to support her husband, while trying to persuade him to cut back on the swearing and wine guzzling. But it’s Perilla’s input that often saves the day, much to her husband’s irritation. Getting to know these people over the last couple of decades or so has been an absolute joy.

Family Commitments has such a good mystery at its heart and it’s not long before Marcus realises he’s out of his depth. It’s such a tangled knot of intrigue, involving gangsters, cut-throats, politicians, the powerful and the desperate. I did get stuck a couple of times as the number of people involved increases. I found it easy to lose track. No wonder Marcus and Perilla find this one a difficult case to solve. But the way that it all comes together is so brilliantly done. It’s worth the brain ache of one section of the novel. And so much of it is so witty!

Rome is brought to life so well, especially the rather posh bit of it. This is a world of dinner parties and literary evenings, but we also encounter the other side of things as Marcus spends much of his time wandering around Rome on foot. And then there’s the dark shadow cast by slavery. As a patrician, Marcus would have taken slaves for granted and would have depended on them – he certainly depends on Bathyllus – but there are moments here when he reflects on what Bathyllus and his brother have endured and how, ultimately, they are all alone in the world. Marcus wants to do his bit to show them that they have him. It’s all rather complicated and no doubt these are unfamiliar thoughts for a man such as Marcus Corvinus. But it’s rather good that he has them. I love the way in which David Wishart depicts the relationships between master and slave, even though I suspect this is all rather wishful thinking.

This is one of those rare series that I have followed and adored from the very beginning. I still remember reading Ovid all those years ago. Such a wonderful book. Right from the start this series has included some of the most famous and infamous personalities of the day and Family Commitments is no different. This is a time when it very much paid to keep your head below the parapet. Unfortunately, Marcus Corvinus can’t do that. His curiosity – after all he is rich and doesn’t have a job to distract him – leads him into all kinds of trouble and I can’t get enough of it. More, please!

Other reviews
Solid Citizens
Finished Business
Trade Secrets
Foreign Bodies

Hero of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Corgi | 2010, Pb 2011 | 480p | Bought copy | Buy the book

Hero of Rome by Douglas JacksonIt is AD 59 and Roman officer Gaius Valerius Verrens is finishing off his tour of duty to Britain as tribune to the Twentieth Legion while they’re stationed in the Severn Valley. For now all seems calm but the British tribes are growing restless as demands for tax, subservience and control increase. The situation is aggravated by the Druids. Most are now hiding away on an island off the coast of north Wales but one young Druid left behind, Gwlym, is growing in influence. Valerius is a natural soldier and leader and he has more than one opportunity to show his skill with the sword before he is sent to Colonia in the east of the province to await his orders to return to Rome where he can begin the next stage of his career on the way to the Senate. But there’s someone who has something to say about that and her name is Boudicca.

Boudicca, Queen of the Iceni, is on the rampage. Whipped and humiliated by the Romans, her daughters raped, her lands seized, Boudicca is after Roman blood and thousands flock to her banner. Colonia stands between Boudicca and London. Valerius with so few men is given orders to work with Colonia’s local militia of retired legionaries to stop Boudicca’s army in its tracks. It’s a terrible task.

Hero of Rome, published in 2010, began a series that rapidly became one of my very favorites of all series, whatever the genre, and it started it in spectacular fashion. Its centrepiece, the siege of Valerius and the Roman forces and townspeople inside Colonia’s enormous Temple of Claudius, a symbol of Roman might if ever there was one, is phenomenal and remains one of the best action sequences I’ve ever read. Perhaps its closest rival is the siege of Jerusalem in another of this series, Scourge of Rome.

But re-reading Hero of Rome reminds me that there is much more to this fantastic, thoroughly exciting novel than the Temple of Claudius sequence (although reading it again, it was every bit as brilliant as it was the first time). This is a substantial novel, after all. We spend time getting to know Valerius and his men and it is so good to meet the tribune again as a young man. The series has very recently finished with the excellent Hammer of Rome, set over twenty years after the events of Hero of Rome and the mature Valerius is a very different man from the one we first meet here. But perhaps that’s not surprising because the siege of the temple at Colonia and its aftermath is life-changing for Valerius in more ways than one.

I’ve said it more than once and I’ll say it again – it’s been an absolute joy to read the nine books that comprise the Hero of Rome series. I’ve loved every step of the way. Douglas Jackson knows this period inside out and the books are packed full of historical and military details, and Gaius Valerius Verrens is a worthy, unusual hero. Now that the series is complete, it’s the perfect time to read it, if you haven’t had the pleasure already.

Other reviews
Caligula
Claudius
Defender of Rome
Avenger of Rome
Sword of Rome
Enemy of Rome
Scourge of Rome
Saviour of Rome
Glory of Rome
Hammer of Rome
An interview

Thrillers written as James Douglas
The Doomsday Testament
The Isis Covenant
The Excalibur Codex

Hammer of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Bantam Press | 2018 (6 September) | 462p | Review copy | Buy the book

Hammer of Rome by Douglas JacksonHammer of Rome is the ninth and (sighs) final novel in Douglas Jackson’s magnificent series featuring Gaius Valerius Verrens, our one-armed Hero of Rome who has taken part in many of the Roman Empire’s greatest campaigns during the second half of the 1st century AD, most memorably in newly-conquered Britannia, in Judea, in the deserts of the East, in Spain, and in Rome itself. I’d urge you to read the other books before Hammer of Rome – if you have you’ll be fully invested in watching Verrens’ journey come to an end after all these years. This review assumes you’ve had the pleasure.

It is AD 80 and Valerius is in Britannia doing what he does best – leading a legion. Back at the head of the Ninth Legion, Valerius is ready to go wherever governor Agricola sends him and it looks as if the long overdue invasion of the north is about to get underway at last, building on Valerius’ previous success against the Brigantes. Rome wants to remove at least one legion from Britannia but, before that can happen, the quarrelsome Caledonian tribes must be defeated. But it looks as if a new potential leader has arisen to unite the tribes together against the Roman threat from the south – King Cathal, known to the Romans as Calcagus – and he wants nothing more than to wipe out Rome’s legions and steal their eagles and their honour.

If only all Valerius had to deal with was Calcagus…. The emperor Vespasian has died, succeeded by his son and Valerius’s great friend, Titus. At last, Valerius and his family can make plans for the future. They can even see a future. But waiting in the wings is Ttitus’s younger brother Domitian and Domitian hates few men more than he hates Valerius. That future is about to be snatched away.

I read Hammer of Rome with excitement (I started it on the day it arrived) and sadness. I have no desire to see this series end. I’ve read it for almost ten years. I can’t tell you how much I’ll miss it. But I couldn’t wait to see how the story of Valerius will end. I’m certainly not going to reveal what happens but I will say that the ending is thoroughly fitting, an enormous achievement in its own right.

The action sequences are as meticulously researched and as exhilarating as ever. Valerius is not the man he used to be when it comes to warfare. He’s much older, he’s more irreplaceable, and he can be more cruel, but he is also far wiser. Nevertheless, he still has moments of extreme recklessness. Only now he is prepared to accept that this cannot continue. One of the elements that I really liked about Hammer of Rome is that Cathal isn’t particularly presented as an enemy – instead he is shown to be a worthy opponent. We spend time with him. We like him, as does Valerius and his fantastic scout, Gaius Rufus – surely one of the best characters in the entire series. The Romans aren’t presented as civilised any more than the tribes are presented as barbaric (although one of the last remaining Druids, and one of the most revolting characters of the series, might have something to say about that). This is a story of conquest after all, a cruel and violent act. Valerius is a man of his time but he is aware of his responsibilities to be as fair as possible.

Hammer of Rome is such a wonderful novel – Valerius is mature, middle-aged, a family man and a man well worth knowing. The battle scenes are as thrilling as ever but so too are all the other scenes, including the chapters scattered throughout that take us back into the heart of a Rome that is becoming very dangerous indeed. There are new characters to enjoy here but we also meet some familiar names while there are quiet moments to remember those who are now gone.

Douglas Jackson is one of the finest writers about today, irrespective of genre. This series is a glorious achievement and so too is the book that completes it, Hammer of Rome. Gaius Valerius Verrens will be missed, although it does mean that readers can now enjoy the full story in its entirety though each of the nine books.

I read the first book, Hero of Rome, before I began reviewing and so for the sake of completeness – and because I really wanted to! – I’m re-reading it. Its depiction of Boudicca’s Revolt and the storming of the great Temple of Claudius is peerless in Roman historical fiction, in my opinion (only rivalled by the siege of Jerusalem in Douglas Jackson’s Scourge of Rome, the sixth book in the series). I cannot wait to read those scenes again. A review will follow shortly. And so if you haven’t read any of this series yet, the timing couldn’t be more perfect, with all nine marvellous books laid before you.

Other reviews
Caligula
Claudius
Defender of Rome
Avenger of Rome
Sword of Rome
Enemy of Rome
Scourge of Rome
Saviour of Rome
Glory of Rome
An interview

Thrillers written as James Douglas
The Doomsday Testament
The Isis Covenant
The Excalibur Codex
The Samurai Inheritance