This is the sixteenth book in the Eagles of the Empire series featuring now Prefect Cato and Centurion Macro. Both have returned from a very successful campaign to find that the Emperor Claudius is dead and his step-son Nero is now on the throne. As a reward for their bravery and success on campaign the legion they command has been transferred to the Pretorian Guard.
- Simon Scarrow
Almost as soon as they return to Rome they, or more especially Cato as the patrician, are involved in political intrigue, murder and kidnap, and that is just the good bits. Cato finds himself having to choose which emperor he wishes to back and to help him decide his son is kidnapped.
Scarrow has once again brought a feel for ancient Roman politics to the novel, updating the language to today’s usage but retaining the feel for how politics worked in those days. Intrigue and murder were legitimate tools in those days where backing the wrong horse in this race was literally a matter of life or death.
Nero is young but was nominated as heir by his step-father Claudius over the Emperor’s natural but younger son Britannicus. The history of this period is well know so I won’t go over it in detail but in short, Claudius last wife Agrippina persuaded Claudius to nominate Nero, her son and Claudius's step-son, as his heir. Later when reconsidering his own son, Agrippina poisons him, allegedly, so her son Nero is still the heir. The supporters of 14 year old Britannicus are not too pleased so a struggle for power ensues. Once that starts then bodies soon begin to pile up and Cato, with his friend and subordinate Macro are pitched right into the middle of this.
To go any deeper into the plot will give away some of the twists and turns that Scarrow fits into this novel. I can say though that Cato finds himself accused of murdering a Senator and goes on the run n Rome, but determined to find out why he has been framed. In the meantime his son is kidnapped so he sees his main task as finding his son. Both factions want Cato on their side and work hard to get him, he finally decides who to back and ends up fighting one of Rome’s crack legions who had decided to back the other candidate.
Lots of action, good descriptions of Rome at that time and a sense of urgency moves this story along very quickly. Scarrow has used much of what is known about the period, who killed who and when, who the main characters were and their allegiances and has woven them into the story of the fictional Cato and Marco. It is a very easy to read book which bring history to life, as have the others in the series. If I have a complaint, it is that this particular story, because of its violence and intrigue, has been done so many times before. I appreciate that to keep the timeline of the series going then this would be the natural next step but there is a definite feeling of “déjà vu again” here! Scarrow does a fine job in bringing this to life, but it is a well worn story nonetheless. That is the only thing that detracts me from the book.
I give it 3.5/5 Mr Mushroomheads purely because of the scene of the plot has been overused, in my opinion.