Thumbs up for S.P.Q.R.: A History of Ancient Rome by Mary Beard. History.
No, I am not one of those people who reads histories of Rome so I can point at current political events and say “See, this is just like that!” Comparing, say, ~240 years of American power to ~2,000 years of Roman power shows a problematic understanding of scale.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis. Historical mystery.
It can safely be said that I am not really a murder mystery reader; they have to have something else going on. In this case what’s going on is the Roman Empire, a political plot, a love story with a prickly patrician girl, and a whole lot of funny. Marcus Didius Falco, the eternally unlucky private eye, is good company, the historical details are lush without bogging down the story, and the wonderful quirky style that I loved so much from The Course of Honor is in full play here.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for A Circlet of Oak Leaves by Rosemary Sutcliff. Children’s historical fiction.
A little novella taking place in Roman Britain. A slight book, but beautifully written as I would expect from Sutcliff.
So he took them on, through a vicious squall of slingstones. Where the ground grew too steep to ride they dropped from the horses and ran on, crouching with heads down behind their light bronze-rimmed bucklers.
… >> Read more
Two thumbs way up for The Course of Honor by Lindsey Davis. Historical fiction.
A fictionalized version of the love between the Emperor Vespasian and his mistress, the freedwoman Caenis. When I first started reading The Course of Honor, my reaction was a bit WTF? And I won’t lie, the writing style is unique to the point of peculiarity. At a certain point, however, I fell in love, peculiarities and all.… >> Read more
Thumbs way up for The First Man in Rome by Colleen McCullough. Historical fiction.
It takes a hell of a great writer to keep me reading through 931 pages, and then right on through the 122-page glossary because the book’s still so good I don’t want to put it down. In brief, The First Man In Rome is about Gaius Marius and his brother-in-law Lucius Cornelius Sulla, as Marius rises to ascendancy in Late Republican Rome.… >> Read more
Thumbs up for Pompeii by Robert Harris. Historical fiction.
Marcus Attilius Primus, aqueduct engineer from a long line of aqueduct engineers, tries to figure out why the water’s stopped running; and discovers more than he bargained for. (Hint: the title’s a spoiler.) Not Great with a capital G, but a good solid page-turner with a really impressive depth of historical research about the working of the Roman aqueducts.… >> Read more
Neither thumbs up nor thumbs down for Under the Eagle by Simon Scarrow. Historical fiction.
Straightforward Roman military adventure, with about as much depth as a made-for-TV-movie. Not very good, but not inept either – a first novel by an author whom I suspect has probably got better with time.
‘My cause? That humiliation you just witnessed wasn’t for me. I did it for the Emperor and Rome.
… >> Read more
Thumbs up for The Eagle of the Ninth (aka The Eagle) by Rosemary Sutcliff. Young adult historical fiction.
Ah. It’s hard to write reviews when you read a couple of amazing books in close proximity, because you want to convey how each one moved you without repeating yourself or resorting to meaningless hyperbole. (OMG JUST READ IT ALREADY. Etc.) Well, a few chapters into The Eagle of the Ninth I realized that it was going to be one of my favorite books of all time.… >> Read more