I recently reviewed another Roman historical novel covering basically the same era and events and did not take to that book greatly; this book however uses the same material but the author’s imagination has greatly stretched the story and made it much more readable, in my opinion.
- Robert Fabbri
The era is that of Emperor Nero and the burning of Rome, the fear that this dictator brought to the time and the hatred that he generated is central to the story. There is plenty of political intrigue, treachery, blood and gore with a few orgies thrown in for good luck. Fabbri has taken known facts and filled in the empty bits with an imaginative story which moves the plot along smoothly and believably. The story opens with Vespasian returning from a successful campaign to a Rome with a new Emperor who is there due to his scheming mother who may, or may not have poisoned the previous Emperor, Claudius. Nero only holds the throne through his mother’s intrigue and the fact that his half-brother is not old enough even though he has a better birth-line.
Fabbri takes us through the madness that was Nero as seen through the eyes of Vespasian in the continuing series about Vespasian and his path through Roman history. He is sent by Nero to Africa to be Governor of that Province. Vespasian learns that all is not well and that Roman citizens are being held as slaves at a desert oasis kingdom. He sets out to recover these slaves, encountering an old adversary he though dead long since. Vespasian’s aim though is not just to govern the Province, return the slaves and be an all round good egg but to make his fortune in the process. After destroying the slave kingdom he has to trust his old adversary to lead him back to safety and Roman territory but again treachery abounds from which his adversary escapes and flees to Rome to get his story in the Emperor’s ear before Vespasian can.
Vespasian returns to Rome to find the situation is tense to say the last. Nero, young, with nobody to hold him back, becomes an arrogant and vicious tyrant, killing his half-brother thus relieving him of a rival and his mother when she won’t let go of her influence over him. He treats the upper classes as though they are just there to look after him, taking as much of their money as he can, and killing the wealthy where he can’t take their money lawfully. Plots soon start to be raised against Nero which I won’t go into as it would give away much of the book’s plot.
The author gives good explanations of some of the events we have been told happened and explains them very well. For instance the story that Nero played the fiddle while Rome burned is explained, in detail and is wholly believable. The description of the burning of the city and the actions of the populace are very well written and it is easy to picture in one’s mind the scene being described.
By now Nero is fully convinced that there is a plot to kill him, and he isn’t wrong. This just exacerbates his paranoia and the reign of terror grows with murders, executions and for the ‘quality’ an instruction to commit suicide or their whole family will be executed. Not a time to be on the wrong side of Nero, or anyone who has Nero’s ear and can put in a bad word about you, leading to one of the aforesaid fates.
This is a good book, well written, as Fabbri’s books are, and very easy to read. Tackling real events and using his imagination to fill in the gaps not captured in the writings of the time, the author has brought a historical novel which describes the terror of living through the time of Rome’s emperors, and how Vespasian survives it.
Well worth 4.5 on the scale.