My rating : 5 of 5 stars
What a relief to be done with Caligula! Not just for Vespasian and the rest of the Roman population of AD41, but also for us in 2015 reading Robert Fabbri’s excellent books. In the nicest possible sense, it is good that Caligula has met his just desserts. He cast a terrible, malignant shadow over the previous book, False God of Rome. His unpredictability and not all that slow descent into madness, was fantastic writing from Robert Fabbri, but hard to stomach sometimes. That made it’s impression (rightly so) even more forceful, I felt.
Anyway, Caligula is stabbed in the vitals on the way home from yet another debauched theatre visit. By a hooded man. However, despite having done just about everyone, apart from Caligula’s wife, a tremendous favour, the Roman bunting is a little slow to be put out. This is die to the only alternative to Caligula as Emperor is Claudius (CLAVDIVS to give him his proper Shenley Court Comprehensive shool-watching the Derek Jakobi TV version -name). ‘What’s wrong with that?’ you who haven’t read the story so far, or skipped your school History lessons, might cry: Well, to bring you up to speed, the only problem with that, with Clavdivs is, he a drooling, stammering, half-idiot. Perfect as a politician then. Well, he is the only game in town – for now – that most can agree on. The best least worst solution to the succession. However, he is surrounded by powerful men. Both physically, in the shape of the feared Prætorian guard, and with Narcissus, Pallas and Callistus, three of the schemingest schemers it will ever be the Romans’ misfortune – but our good fortune – to come up against. Each is seemingly trying to out-do the other in proving their loyalty to Clavdivs by proving to the Roman people, the mob, that Clavdivs is a worthy Emperor. And what better way to do that than have the Roman army go off in search of a stolen Legion Eagle in Germania. Not just any stolen Eagle, but the one that was lost at the scene of possibly Rome’s greatest – as in worst – defeat. The catastrophic, humiliating defeat 40 years previously in the Germanian Teutoburg forests. Capturing and returning the Eagle would go a long way to restoring Roman pride and ensuring Clavdivs’ popularity. Not to mention subduing the troublesome Germanians and setting the Empire nicely up for another round of expansion, where Clavdivs can prove his worth by out-doing even the great Julius Caesar – not to mention Caligula – and conquering Britannia.
Luckily for Robert Fabbri and us, it is Vespasian who is sent off on what most believe is an impossible mission that even Ethan Hunt would think twice about. That of finding and bringing the Eagle back. I can’t now remember whether that is fiction Robert F has put in, or actual fact, based on likelihood, but either way, it works. And how! As we – Vespasian and us – escape from Rome’s clutches, the story and the writing blossom, flow and soar. If something can blossom and soar at the same time. Incredible stuff. So exciting, compulsive and compelling. I hate cliches to do with book reading – you try ‘devouring’ a book one day, can’t be done – but I really did not want to put the book down. Even to have my tea. Or my breakfast. And I’ll be sending the marriage guidance counselling bill direct to Mr Fabbri. It engages immediately and never lets go – not until the end anyway. The story, the character, the author have really been set free by coming out from the stifling confines of the Caligula period. The hunt for the Eagle’s residing place in the threatening, mysterious forests of Germania, is done a little like Southern Comfort, if you’ve ever seen that film, mixed with Predator. Remember what happened in those two and you’ll get what’s going on here. It really is done so well, the sense of threat is palpable. Superb writing! Historical Fiction, any kind od Fiction even, at its very best. Very filmic too, which may or may not be a coincidence…
I’m going to go on a limb and say it’s one of the two best books I’ve read this year. The other being Greg Iles’ The Bone Tree. For sure in the best three anyway. Certainly the best Roman-period book I can remember ever reading. It really reads like a modern-day thriller, set in AD 41. Robertus Ludlumus. And it’s the fourth in the series, how can THAT be? Shouldn’t people be running on auto-pilot at this point? Not Mr F. If you like your action fast and your Romans and Barbarians furious, then pick up Rome’s Fallen Eagle now! Go on, do it! (You see what I did there?).
Buy Rome’s Fallen Eagle (Vespasian IV) at The Book Depository