Synopsis (back cover):
Rufus, a young slave, grows up far from the corruption of the imperial court. He is a trainer of animals for the gladiatorial arena. But when Caligula wants a keeper for the emperor’s elephant, Rufus is bought from his owner and taken to the palace.
Life at court is dictated by Caligula’s ever shifting moods. He is as generous as he is cruel – a megalomaniac who declares himself a living god and simultaneously lives in constant fear of plots against his life. His paranoia is not misplaced however; intrigue permeates his court, and Rufus will find himself unwittingly at the centre of a conspiracy to assassinate the emperor.
Fans of intrigue, action and historical drama will all be thrilled by the first novel in the Romans trilogy by Douglas Jackson. From the first sentence, the reader is totally immersed in the unfolding drama – once can almost taste the paranoia dripping from each page as it is turned.
Caligula’s sadistic tendencies, even as a child, are quickly revealed, but so is the constant fear with which he lives and I, very surprisingly, found that on occasion, I actually felt some sympathy for him – I wasn’t prepared for that and it was a refreshing change. Rufus, and his friendship with Cupido, were written with such devotion that one could almost believe the author was writing about close friends of his own, such was the realism of both their characters and their relationship. As for Bersheba, the emperor’s elephant, she has such character that it’s no stretch of the imagination to feel her presence and hear her huffing breath as one reads – she’s right there beside you.
There’s excitement by the barrel load and the roar of the crowds in the arena is almost palpable, along with the stench of the animals and the stink of sweat and blood. It’s a vividly recreated world that one feels could almost be touched. It’s not just a story, it’s an experience.
I highly recommend this novel and am champing at the bit to read the rest of the trilogy.
Review by Kell Smurthwaite