Review: Enemy of Rome by Douglas Jackson

Enemy of Rome
of 5 hands

My version:
Historical Fiction Rome
Bantam Press
Bought, Signed

Summer AD 69. Rome and its empire are in turmoil, caught in the coils of a desperate and destructive civil war. The emperor Otho is dead by his own hand and his rival, Aulus Vitellius, occupies the imperial throne. However, a new challenge has arisen in the East – the legions of Titus Flavius Vespasian have declared him their Emperor.

In the dry heat of an August morning, Gaius Valerius Verne’s prepares for his last day on this earth. Wrongly accused of deserting his legion on the field of Bedriacum, it seems he is destined to die a coward’s death.

Then the executioner’s hand is stayed. Vitellius’ enemies will spare the life of the man who was once Hero of Rome if he pledges allegiance to Vespasian and his cause. Valerius – tired of the endless slaughter and helping that he might be reunited with his lost love – agrees. And so he must battle his way south to Rome in order to persuade his friend Vitellius to stand down for the greater good of the city, its people and the empire.

But this is civil war and this is Rome, and Valerius – his loyalties divided and branded an enemy of the people – is trapped in a maze of distrust, corruption, betrayal and blood-letting…

Book Five and not only the series, but the readers are beginning to flag…

not a bit of it!

This is, to quote another blogger, “brilliant!” This could be the exuberant first novel from a fresh new author, this could be the final novel in a long series where everything comes satisfactorily together. This could be the best novel in the series – so far (#5 is as far as I’ve got).

This period of Rome’s history is fairly well populated with authors just now. I’ve come across people like Robert Fabbri (his series is about Vespasian, after all), Henry Venmore-Rowland and even (!) Anthony Riches eyebrow-festooned epics touch on it, if I’m not very much mistaken. I’m not sure if that’s an advantage or disadvantage. In that, you might read about a character in one of them, who is described, or acts, in a different way in another book. For instance with H V-R’s superb The Sword and The Throne, the historical character of Aulus Cecina Severus comes over – to me – as a tragic, flawed character, but one who eventually got my sympathy. Here, he’s handled differently. As is the character of Vespasian’s brother Sabinus, compared to how Robert Fabbri has written him. So, what stops me thinking of other writer’s depictions, when reading them in Douglas Jackson’s book? It could lead to a “well, he wouldn’t have said THAT or done THAT!” while thinking of the wrong version. There is some cross-over, but to be fair, the characters that feature in the other books I’ve mentioned, aren’t too prominent here. The book(s) have more to do with a fictional character in a non-fiction period and Douglas Jackson manages to find a clear path throughout and I didn’t get confused. Much.

I thought a few times, that while the book and series is obviously about Verrens, this one at least, I felt was his Spanish bodyguard and close friend Serpentius’ book. Good as Valerius is, Serpentius is better. If it wasn’t for Serpentius’ knack of turning up in Verrens’ wrong places at exactly the right times, some of the scrapes would be much too close for comfort. While Serpentius is a wolf in a wolf’s clothing, the character of Verrens is maturing very nicely. He’s lost a few more of his idealistic edges along the way and giving more priority to finding what is right for him, than Rome, when even he can see that marrying the two will be a nigh on impossible job. Hence the ‘lost love’ angle in the sleeve blurb. There are a couple of incidents which I felt were dealt with a little too quickly, could have been spread out for tension over more than just a chapter (the spy following Valerius. The letters sent by Domitia). However, the magnificence of the whole, sweeps aside any minor niggles. This is vintage Verrens, vintage Jackson all the way.

It’s got to be difficult keeping up the interest let alone standard when you’re at number five in a series. However, in the safe hand of Gaius Valerius Verrens and the equally safe hands of Douglas Jackson, Enemy of Rome is a really excellent book, with a story full of colour, vitality, action, drama, suspense. And an ending borrowed from Shakespeare in Love? I think so. Equally poignant, not to say heartbreaking. Valerius might have lost a hand while stationed in Britannia, but he clearly came back with a stiff upper lip…

You can buy Enemy of Rome at The Book Depository

Related reviews on Speesh Reads:

Hero of RomeRome's Fallen EagleArrows of FuryMe, on Goodreads

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