Yon Cassius has a lean and hungry look—and the rest of the players in Iggulden’s (Conqueror, 2011, etc.) spirited novel of ancient Rome are pretty tough, too.
It’s the ides of March as the tale opens, and Julius Caesar has just concluded a very bad day. Brutus and Cassius, the self-styled “liberators” of the old Roman republic, have seen to that—and now, as Brutus warns Cassius, “Carry the small men with you and place every step with care, or we will be hunted down.” Indeed, and now it’s up to Caesar’s adopted son Octavian and his perhaps unlikely ally Mark Antony to exact vengeance. Novels about the Second Triumvirate aren’t common, in part, perhaps, since the events of history are plenty dramatic on their own; still, Iggulden does fine work in his deft character studies of the principals and their various motives for alternately stirring up civil war or defending a new empire in the borning: Octavian is proud and a little stiff-necked, blessed with “the power of the name he had been given”; Mark Antony is deliberate and thorough (“Tell me how you see it and I will consider what is best for Rome”); Brutus is tough, Cassius quick-witted, their ally, the senator Suetonius, plaintive: “I saved Rome from an insane tyrant who made a mockery of the Republic, who destroyed centuries of civilization by being too powerful to check or balance.” With such strong and willful people, you just know a clash is inevitable—and the best parts of this good novel are those of fierce battles such as Philippi, in scenes of “oil and splinters and floating bodies.”
Well-paced and well-written; if not quite in the class of Robert Graves and Mary Renault, better than much historical fiction about the ancient world.