Genre: Historical Fiction, Rome
First published: 2018
Pages: 343 (347)
From the cover:
Rome, AD63. Vespasian has been made Governor of Africa. Nero, Rome’s increasingly unpredictable Emperor, orders him to journey with his most trusted men to a far-flung kingdom in Africa to free 200 Roman citizens who have been enslaved by a desert people. Vespasian arrives at the city to negotiate their emancipation, hoping to return to Rome a hero and find himself back in favour with Nero.
But when Vespasian reaches the city, he discovers a slave population on the edge of revolt. With no army to keep the polulation in check, it isn’t long before tensions spill over into bloody chaos. Vespasian must escape the city with all 200 Roman citizens, making their way across a barren desert, whilst battling thirst and exhaustion. It’s a desperate race for survival, with a hoard of rebels at their backs.
Meanwhile, back in Rome, Nero’s extravagance goes unchecked. All of Rome’s elite fear for their lives as Nero’s closest allies run amok. Can anyone stop the emperor before Rome devours itself? And if Nero is to be toppled, who will be the one to put his head in the lion’s mouth?
I will admit to never having been a great one for the machinations and ifs and buts of how (they suppose) Roman politics was. I can take a bit, and I can appreciate that there maybe actually was an element of what happens in many of the Roman era books I read, but it surely is just guesswork. However…Mr Fabbri has been absolutely superb in steering us through the murkier side of his story of Vespasian’s life, without turning it into the literary equivalent of wading through treacle.
The problem I had here, was true as it might well be – or maybe informed speculation – the descriptions and humiliation and pain dished out by Nero at what is obviously the end of his reign, even if you’ve never read a book mentioning Nero before, does take a bit of getting through. The received wisdom about Nero is that he was excess unbounded and unlimited, we have that in mind when going into this book, and there surely won’t be anyone who has found their way to Robert Fabbri’s Vespasian books, who isn’t up to speed on Nero, so…the detailed scenes, the repetition of his excesses gets wearing, even sickening, in no way enjoyable – which I suppose was the idea. Yet, in the amount as they are presented here, largely unnecessary. As I say, we know Nero was a madman, there’s no need to rub it in, and I can’t see a real purpose for it, as Vespasian gets sent on a mission, not because of any Nero-ish madness. Nor does any one take advantage of the general feeling of “enough is enough!” Later, in the next book, yes, but that’s another story. And, didn’t we have a lot of similar stuff in one (or two) of the earlier books?
Of course, it could be RF’s aim, to have us looking away and shifting in our seats while reading this, if that was the case, then he’s done a brilliant job!
Fortunately for us, Vespasian is in no way mad, or even nearing any rails to go off of. Robert has, and does here, present Vespasian as someone we in the 21st Century could relate to, despite the 1900 year gap. Even more so, his constant loyal companion, Magnus. The writing of their scenes in particular, sparkles and leaps from the pages. Though that is the case of 99% of the book(s) Robert F has written about Vespasian. Each one is better than most all the competition (I have read) and the series will stand to be returned to once the next, the final book, is done. Even if just to check that prediction once more…