Thumbs up for The Legate’s Daughter by Wallace Breem. Historical fiction.
One thing to note is that this book is not at all about the legate’s daughter, so don’t be mislead by that. I waffled a lot over rating this a 3 or a 4 on Goodreads. Finally I settled on 3 stars, because I reserve 4 for books I can enthusiastically recommend (even if I don’t think they are Great Literature). My feelings are complicated. This is a very engaging book with nicely drawn characters – educated semi-lowlife Curtius Rufius and his poet buddy Criton, both down on their luck in Rome – who get tossed into the political deep-end on a mission to North Africa to rescue a legate’s kidnapped daughter. I love that the quiet touchpoint of the book is their friendship. Stylistically, though, it is an odd book. No one speaks with contractions. Much of the political situation is conveyed in the author’s brief forward, rather than in the text itself, where it would be helpful – an understatement – to the reader’s comprehension. The characters often make hints at matters, which we are presumably meant to understand, but I must confess I was often left in the dark; and I would say I am a fairly careful reader who typically has no problem following involved politics. Furthermore, the structure of the book was awkward. The first half, in Rome, is simply setup, and it does not sit easily against the second half. In short: this book felt like a first draft gone straight to press without editing. However, it is a first draft by an author of undeniable brilliance. If you like books set in the Roman Empire which are not primarily about warfare, I do recommend it. But, perhaps, prepare yourself for something a little odd.
He stared at the wet table. He knew then what was coming and now that the moment had come, that he had dreaded all afternoon, did not know what to say. He had faced it before with other girls and there had been little problem. An easy grin, a flashing smile, and the glib phrases practiced over the year, all had eased the way. He had great talent: he knew how to escape without causing pain, but the talent was to fail him now.
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