Sunday, January 16, 2011

Emperor Series.

I apologise for the lack of updates. I've simply been too busy. I have a professional life not quite related to the classics and it can get a bit heavy sometimes. Nevertheless, my classical reading has kept pace.

I recently finished the first book of Conn Iggulden's "Emperor" series (The Gates of Rome), which I enjoyed for the most part. It's worth saying it's a work of fiction and it's really only for geeks and historians to believe fictional works must adhere to the facts, but I have to say that the end really quite irritated me.

The setting is primarily Rome and the surrounding countryside. The story follows the young Julius Caesar and his friend Marcus as they begin to enter adulthood - through training with a veteran soldier, to eventually joining his Uncle Marius' staff in Caesar's case and subsequently witnessing his fabled Uncle being crushed by his enemy, Sulla. Marcus decides to bugger off with the navy to the East.

Now, the book reads very easily. The page and font size are very much conducive to speedy reading, and the various set pieces of action throughout are well written and convey something of the bloody mayhem of ancient warfare. The characters never quite come off the page (for my money, Sulla is most well written, but he's not around too much, although perhaps this comes down to the negative way he's presented, as opposed to the essentially good, if stern, main characters).

Anyway. To the frustrating part. Iggulden plays with the names of his characters, with Julius Caesar being called Gaius as a child and Marcus' full name not being revealed until the final page. The former seems rather pointless, as it's clear whose life the book is supposed to "chronicle" but the latter twist is awful. It's a lame literary trick and I felt cheated by it, although I must concede I didn't see it coming (incredibly). *SPOILERS AHEAD*

It turns out of course that Marcus is of course Marcus Junius Brutus - assassin of Caesar! It turns out they're best friends! How lame! I couldn't quite believe it. Established history puts them about 15 years apart in age (the boys are only that age for the duration of the book) and the famous rumour is that Brutus is in fact the son of the early-to-be-sexually-active Caesar. Naturally, that's not enough for historical fiction so they have to be friends, fighting off Sulla together, even before Brutus was actually born.

I have the second book (I purchased them from the Book Depository - as essential source for English books for those of us who live abroad and enjoy free delivery), but at the minute I loathe to read it as the dramatic set-up that ended the first book disappointed me so much. They're certainly easy to read, but I haven't had the empty period of time required to devour such a novel recently.

I recommend the novels to anyone who doesn't get annoyed as I do about such stuff.