Book Review – Deposed by David Barbaree (historical fiction) Highly Recommended

Here’s the blurb;

“More gripping than Game of Thrones and more ruthless than House of Cards – this a stunning new thriller of power, treachery and revenge

In a darkened cell, a brutally deposed dictator lies crippled – deprived of his power, his freedom – and his eyes.

On the edge of utter despair, his only companion is the young boy who brings him his meagre rations, a mere child who fears his own shadow. But to one who has held and lost the highest power, one thing alone is crystal clear: even emperors were mere children once.

Ten years later, the new ruler’s son watches uneasily over his father’s empire. Wherever he looks rebellion is festering, and those closest to him have turned traitor once before.

To this city in crisis comes a hugely wealthy senator from the very edge of the empire, a young and angry ward at his heels. He is witty but inscrutable, generous with his time and money to a leader in desperate need of a friend – and he wears a bandage over his blinded eyes.

The fallen emperor’s name is Nero.”

Wow, what a stunning debut novel.

I’ve never read any Roman themed novels before the last few weeks, but it would seem that they are both very popular and really rather numerous (I think this is now my sixth or seventh). That said, the books that I’ve read have, more of less, dealt with similar time periods and events. In the case of this novel, I’ve not long since read The Young Nero by Elizabeth George which follows Nero through his younger years and this novel seemed quite a perfect follow up.

This novel, however, is far more wickedly complicated and an absolute delight to read. It has a fast pace and is a very easy read. A note for future readers – do take account of the chapter headings – the novel moves through many different points of views and through two different time periods, as well as occasionally going backward in that time period. It sounds complicated, but it’s a brilliant way of unravelling the events of the novel.

I think it would be fair to say it’s a fairly simple story told in a complicated way – it’s about intrigue in the Roman Government during the AD 60’s-70’s – but it is also so much more than that because of the multiple point of views. This allows the author to decipher events as others see them, with all their attendant prejudices, worries and fears. It is, it must be said, as complex as the House of Cards and as much fun. The portrayal of the corrupt nature of the Roman Government is done very well – I garnered much more from this novel about events in Rome and the wider Roman Empire than I did The Young Nero.

The two timelines, interwoven throughout the novel, eventually offer explanations to the events taking place in the later timeline and while some may find the storyline a little far-fetched, I found it to be told in such a believable way that I had no problem allowing the author to take me down a slightly unconventional route.

My only slight gripe is that I’d assumed this was a standalone novel, and clearly it isn’t, which means I’ll have to keep my eye out for the next novel because I am incredibly keen to read more about Barbaree’s reimagining of Ancient Rome and his Deposed Nero.

And you can buy it here (and should) from May 4th 2017;

Book Review – Betrayal: The Centurions I by Anthony Riches (historical fiction)

Here’s the blurb:

“Rome, AD 68. Nero has committed suicide. One hundred years of imperial rule by the descendants of Julius Caesar has ended, and chaos rules.

His successor Galba dismisses the incorruptible Germans of the Imperial Bodyguard for the crime of loyalty to the dead emperor. Ordering them back to their homeland he releases a Batavi officer from a Roman prison to be their prefect. But Julius Civilis is not the loyal servant of empire that he seems.

Four centurions, two Batavi and two Roman, will be caught up in the intrigues and the battles that follow – as friends, as victims, as leaders and as enemies.

Hramn is First Spear of the Bodyguard. Fiercely proud of his men’s honour, and furious at their disgrace, he leads them back to the Batavi homeland to face an uncertain future.

Alcaeus is a centurion with the tribe’s cohorts serving Rome on the northern frontier – men whose fighting skills prove crucial as Roman vies with Roman for the throne. A wolf-priest of Hercules, he wields the authority of his god and his own fighting prowess.

Marius is a Roman, first spear of the Fifth Legion: a self-made man who hates politics, but cannot avoid them in a year of murderous intrigue.

Aquillius, former first spear of the Eighth Augustan, like Hramn, is in disgrace for refusing to dishonour his oath of loyalty. But their paths will lead them to opposite sides of an unforgiving war.

And Civilis, Kivilaz to his countrymen, heroic leader, Roman citizen and patriotic Batavi, will change both the course of the Empire’s destiny and that of the centurions.”

For a book that’s only 400 pages long, Betrayal by Anthony Riches, took a painful amount of time to read. It is, and perhaps only people who’ve read the book will understand this comment, as hard to read as the struggles his crack Batavi troops endure as they forge rivers in all their armour. This is a huge shame. I can almost understand what the author was trying to achieve with this novel, and perhaps, for those who know the period well it will be a great success, but as a newly come reader to Roman era historical fiction, I found I needed to rely on my very sparse knowledge from other Roman historical fiction books to even have an inkling of what was happening.

Much of this could perhaps be remedied with a few more ‘signposts’ for the reader throughout the text. While the author informs us where the action is taking place, it would have been better to have known who the storyline actually involved. The characters all seem to have a number of different names and the author uses them freely, when in actual fact, they all just needed one name, and probably their title before that name – Centurion, Decurion, Legatus etc etc. In a story with so many characters the author really needs to help the reader by informing them as to who they’re reading about – there were great swathes of this novel when I literally had no idea which character the storyline was about and how it related to the other person I’d just been reading about. Some of this is due to the story being told, and the ‘actual’ events that took place, but much of it is just sloppy storycrafting.

The prologue is almost unreadable – sentences taking up the ENTIRE page on my Kindle and it took me three attempts to get through it. I was relieved when the prologue ended and the real story could get under way, but even that relief didn’t last too long. While the events of the prologue are later seen to have real significance to the storyline, I think they’re mentioned so often, that a ‘flashback’ would have sufficed. There is painstaking detail about the equivalent of a game of football/rugby but on other occasions, the characters somehow appear ‘overnight’ in Italy from Germany with very little explanation as to why, and and then travel back just as quickly. It makes me feel that there either wasn’t enough to make this a complete story, or that the author was trying to achieve too much in one book.

I do not believe that historical fiction should be ‘dumbed’ down so that readers can relate to it but it must be told in a manner that’s understandable to those who know little about it. This is the seventh work of Roman historical fiction I’ve read in as many weeks, and apart from one other (which I also struggled with) it is the one I enjoyed the least and also, understood the least. A real shame as I enjoy intelligent novels about the politics of the time, but this completely defeated me.

Betrayal was released on 9th March 2017 and is available here;