I think I must have read most of the current ‘big guns’ (or should that be ‘big ballistae’?) of modern Roman Historical Fiction. I usually try and read one or two of other genres, or at least periods, inbetween, just because I’m afraid of them all blurring into one if I don’t. Until this book, Robert Fabbri was a new, sometimes difficult to spell correctly, name to me. Afterwards, and I’m really glad I made the effort to get hold of Vespasian’, as I found it a thoroughly enjoyable, well-written and rewarding read.
We’re back in the first Century AD. This time, in the area of countryside around Rome. Vespasian is 16 and is living on the family farm with his mother and father. His ambitious mother and father. They mean well, I suppose, his mum and dad…though they are mainly ambitious that Vespasian and his brother do well, for the sake of the family and the family name. Vespasian’s elder brother Sabinus, has just returned home from his first period away with the army. Vespasian has been running the family estates, and is actually quite good at it. However, Mum and Dad have other plans for Vespasian. He must do his bit for the advancement of the family fortunes and so his next rung on the Roman social ladder, is that he too must join the army. So, the 16-year old Vespasian journeys with his brother to the big city (not many bigger at the time, of course), to the centre of the world, to Rome. Here, Vespasian and his brother are to seek help with their advancement from their uncle. They also get valuable lessons in how to (hopefully) avoid the many pitfalls involved with said advancement in Roman social society. Luckily for me – as endless backstabbing and double-dealing Roman-style talking usually sends me walking…not everything goes according to plan. Vespasian soon finds himself, mostly unknowingly, caught up in someone called Sejanus’ machinations in trying to depose the ageing Emperor Tiberius. Vespasian has to get the hell out of Dodge and past the Praetorian Guards, in something of a hurry. He finds an escape route, by taking up a relatively (hopefully) obscure position as Tribune somewhere out on Rome’s Balkan frontier. But troubles find him even out there. Though they are at least troubles of the sort – attacks from local tribesmen, presumably not too keen on being another Roman frontier province – that can be solved more easily with a sword and a shield. A kind of problem solving Vespasian, (still only 16, I checked) is showing he has both the aptitude – and sometimes surprising for a 16-year old – the strength, for. In the meantime, he has of course, being 16 and a riot of Roman hormones – some things don’t change – has fallen in love. With the ‘wrong’ girl. With a slave girl. Fortunately later on, she might actually be the right girl, when…well, you’ll have to buy the book(s) to find out.
Vespasian (the book) I found inviting, informative and thrilling. Often all at the same time. Vespasian (the character) I thought was sympathetic, understandable and therefore believable. I also found Robert Fabbris style of writing very accessible, with the relevant nuggets of Roman information needed for full appreciation of the background to Vespasian’s situation, Roman society of the time on the whole, really well handled. Presented in a much more natural, and lighter, way than some writers. Prof H. Sidebottom, is an example that springs naturally to mind. Not as in your face, as H. Sidebottom can often be. Reading his last one, I felt like I hadn’t done my homework properly. Robert Fabbri’s way of writing seems a more flowing, natural style and lets the story work without it stopping and starting and where were we now before I had to try and pronounce/try and understand that/yet another difficult Latin word? I actually found myself enjoying how Robert Fabbri writes about the Roman social scene and the myriad of potential pitfalls they seem to have had waiting for them on their way to the top. I didn’t think I liked that sort of thing, but in Robert Fabbri’s hands, it feels fresh and interesting. As a whole, I thought ‘Vespasian’ was well planned and executed, a nuanced picture of a Roman going places, interestingly informative without ever being over powering and above all, very readable.
Vespasian looks like the start of an engaging, convincing and well worth following all the way, Roman saga.