Historical Fiction Rome
AD58. Rome is in turmoil once more.
Emperor Nero has surrounded himself with sycophants and together they rampage by night through the city, visiting death and destruction as they go. Meanwhile, Nero’s extravagance has reached new heights. The Emperor’s spending is becoming profligate at the same time as the demands of keeping the provinces subdued have become increasingly unaffordable. Could Nero withdraw from Britannia, and at what price for the Empire?
As the bankers of the Empire scramble to call in their loans, Vespasian is sent to Londinium on a secret mission, only to become embroiled in a deadly rebellion led by Boudiccia, a female warrior of extraordinary bravery. As the uprising gathers pace, Vespasian must fight to stay ahead of Rome’s enemies and complete his task – before all of Britannia burns.
First up – Have you ever known a time when Rome wasn’t in turmoil? It clearly is the mainstay of people writing Roman-era fiction of course, to have Rome constantly in the afore-mentioned turmoil, but come on! There must have been some dull years? Some quiet times, like when all the stuff got built. Still, the period we’re entering into here, is one of the most tumultuous in Rome’s history. I’m no expert in Roman history, I’m just going by the number of books I’ve read set in this period (!). And the little bit I do/did know about it. The time of four, or was it five? Emperors. In quick succession. Good riddance to half of them as well.
Second up, really should be first up: This book, Furies of Rome, is a masterpiece. A master work. The work of a writing master at the peak of his game. A masterpiece after six previous volumes? Outrageous! If you haven’t read the previous books in the series, are you in for a treat. If you have and thought they were excellent, this one will take you even further into Rome-heaven. What really did it for me, was the big battle with Queen Boudicca towards the end. That is both a masterpiece of clear, effective, well-planned writing, and a masterly description of a masterpiece of tactical awareness and battle planning from (not Vespasian!), but Paulus. That is worth the entrance fee on its own, really, but it could only be so effective having been set on top of the already fabulous build up. We start in Rome, with some pretty hairy moments for Vespasian as he tries to steer a path to survival through Nero’s madness – and the opportunists trying to take advantage of Nero’s near total doo-lally-ness. It’s a relief, and not just for Vespasian, to be able to get away from the tensions of Rome, to the quiet, calm, backwater that is Britannia. A province that refuses to be governed quietly and with revolting natives all over the show.
Vespasian has developed, not really a thicker skin, but, at least by the end of this book, I detected a more laissez faire kind of attitude. More, what will be, will be. The prophecy that was made at his birth, the meaning of which he has slowly begun to if not figure out, then more than suspect what it is, seems to have given him the ‘do your worst, I know what is inevitably going to happen’ attitude. I got the idea that, in the final chapter back in Rome (it’s not giving anything away, I’ve checked), he kind of feels that the worst that could possibly have happened to him, has and hasn’t. That it’s more downhill sailing from here on. That I’m even able to think that, think back on the development of the character as it has happened over seven books, and notice subtle changes, speaks – for me – volumes about the work of Robert Fabbri in being able to do it.
The title also had me thinking. Obviously, the furies could refer to the dangerous women there are in Rome and here, Vespasian faces dangerous women at every turn. The storms and the fury being stirred up by Nero, is another. Then when he gets to Britannia, there’s Boudicca, of course. But she is matched, in a subtly different way, by Vespasian’s long-time mistress, Caenis. She, really comes good here, showing in full light, the strengths and subtleties that have been hinted at in previous volumes. A fury from Rome, of ever there was one.
There’s so much to appreciate and savour in The Furies of Rome, that it would be churlish of me to suggest it’s because Vespasian returns to his old Britannia stamping grounds. But I’ll suggest it anyway.
I’m still gonna picture Vespasian with a full head of hair though…
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