Posted by Sari
Lately, I have mostly been reading historicals. Well, Tom Holland’s Rubicon is not a novel, but such a well written piece of popular narrative history that it was quite as exciting as one. The much lauded book is a story of the downfall of the Roman republic. First few chapters outline the birth and rise of the Republic into a major player in the Mediterranean and then Holland wittily, excitingly and lucidly narrates the events of the last fifty or so years of the republic from Marius and Sulla to the triumph of Caesar Divi Filius Augustus. Obviously – as Holland states in the preface – the sources are limited and biased and interpretations events and motivations of participants can fluctuate widely, and obviously we can’t know what the great men of Rome thought or felt with any certainty. A book geared for more scholarly audience would have had to be more careful, more pedantic and would propably have to sacrifice the pace and tension of the narrative in order to bring out the evidence and agrument more. But as a piece of narrative popular history of the tensions, events and persons that ruled the stage during that turbulent period, this is bloody brilliant, even though the exit of Cicero somewhat flattens the last chapter.
As a companion piece I was reading Saylor’s A Mist of Prophecies which though not one of his best works was still an entertaining read. Here we are living year 48 B.C. Caesar is chasing Pompey’s numerically superior army in Greece, and back in Italy Milo and Marcus Caelius are fermenting trouble. In Rome, Gordianus tries to find out who has murdered Cassandra, a strange girl from Alexandria claiming to be a seer. In course of his investigations Gordianus visits a number of powerful women in Rome who had all shown up at Cassandra’s funeral and they each reveal a bit of the mystery. The detective story, I though, was ok but no better, and the structure of the novel was a bit mechanic. Even so, Saylor writes well and at least I had the bacround well in hand...
Third historical was Kate Mosse’s Labyrinth, a grail novel which happens partly in Modern time and partly in 13th century Pays D’Oc. The modern day heroine Alice, a volunteer on an archeological dig, stumbles on a cave with two sceletons in it. Suddenly, people start dying, police and mysterious lawyers, and other people start chasing her, all because they think she has something from the cave. In the historical part Alaïs, daughter of the Castellaan of Chateau Comtal becomes a guardian of the grail secret after his father and fights to save it from the ravages of Albigensian crusades. This was easy, predictable fluff which was saved by the fact that Mosse quite obviously loves the landscape and history of Languedoc and this bleeds through in her narrative. Much, much better than the ridiculously and clumsily simplistic daVinci Code, but a bit too long and predictable. I loved tha fact that all the main protagonists – villains and heroes – were women, though.