- Robert Fabbri
- ARRSE Rating
- 5 Mushroom Heads
Magnus was the leader of the Crossroads Brotherhood which covered the Quirinal area of Rome. Each part of Rome had its Brotherhood which had been originally set up to ensure that the religious festivals were properly feted. Over time these Brotherhoods changed and became criminal gangs so by the time we get to Magnus he is leader of a bunch of thieves, protection racketeers and general thugs. However, when it came for the upper echelons of Rome to cut a few corners they looked to their local Brotherhood and in return gave them some protection from the authorities. In the case of the Quirinal the top official is Senator Gaius Vespasian Polla who in turn is uncle and sponsor of Vespasian who he wants to get promoted to civil posts in which he can make money; all very complicated but that is how life was in ancient Rome.
Magnus had no scruples and death and casual violence was the norm for him and his ‘hood, so there are plenty of bodies and blood with some sex in this series of books. The stories themselves are between 50-60 pages long and each one is a stand-alone story but attached to the Main books by reference. There is very little crime, depravity or violence that Magnus would not consider if it furthered his cause and therefore that of his Patron Senator Polla, and of course made the Brotherhood some money at the same time.
The first story introduces us to Magnus and his merry band of cutthroats and ne’er-do-wells, and his background with the army and the Vigiles. The Vigiles were the firemen of Rome who also acted as, rather heavy-handed, policemen. THE Vigils would attend fires then happily stand watching the building burn if the owner refused to pay them to extinguish it – life was tough in ancient Rome! One of Magnus’s clients, his term for those who pay him protection money, comes to him complaining that another Brotherhood has stolen two of his boys – this client being the owner of the local brothel specialising in young boys! This gives Magnus the chance to get back at his rival neighbouring Brotherhood – very much a theme through most of the stories. The fight for survival and for their own territory is constant, brutal and unforgiving.
The next story concerns the chariot races and how to fix a specific race so that Magnus gets his revenge on a bookmaker who cheated him. Obviously, Magnus does this in such a way that his Brotherhood make a tidy sum.
Each of the other stories then take us through the life of Rome in AD 50 (ish) and how it worked as a society. It was a very hard time, very brutal and life was extremely cheap. Magnus himself Is a vile, cunning, ruthless character with absolutely no morals whose only aim in life, apart from staying alive, was to make money. However, Fabbri writes him up so that the reader sympathises with him and wishes his schemes well. Magnus is the sort of man who it is best to have as a friend than as an enemy.
The novellas, of which there are six, are very well written, interesting and take one right into the underworld of Rome of that era. The Vespasian series of books were, and are, excellent and these novellas complement them beautifully. I wish I had known about them before as I would have sought them out as they were published. Still, I have them now, all in one book which, even if you are not a fan of Vespasian or have not read any of the main books, will give you a great read. Good, intriguing stories set in context of the society but written in such a way that the modern reader can take to immediately. A great piece of fiction.
It could be argued that as these are novellas and not of the Main story series the score in Mr Mushroomheads should not be high, I disagree and give these a firm and fair 5/5 Mr MRHs.