Kirkus Reviews QR Code
NERO by Conn Iggulden


by Conn Iggulden

Pub Date: May 24th, 2024
ISBN: 9781639366545
Publisher: Pegasus

A sweeping novel of ancient Rome and the early days of Nero.

To borrow a philosopher’s phrase opining on another era, life in ancient Rome was nasty, brutish, and short—and being on top of the heap didn’t seem to help much. In the year 37 CE, the brutal Emperor Tiberius is dying. Agrippina is related to him by marriage and has a young son, Lucius, who will one day become known as Nero. Sit back and enjoy—or cringe at—this bloody tale that is littered with the bodies of the powerful, the ambitious, and the innocent. The story roughly follows Agrippina and her son, Lucius, who carry cruelty in their genes. She, for example, poisons her husband, Italus, a centurion who seems only to have treated her well. When the wretched Tiberius dies, Agrippina’s brother becomes emperor. He is Gaius Julius Caesar, nicknamed Caligula, or Little Boots, and he is “quite mad…as dangerous as any scorpion.” “It was death to touch” Caligula, even to rescue him from a dangerous fall. He exiles his sister on a vague suspicion, but after she eventually returns, she marries his uncle Claudius, who spits on his nephew’s corpse. In time, she and Lucius accompany Claudius on his campaign to conquer Britannia. Then—no spoiler, this—Agrippina tells the lad that one day he’ll be Emperor Nero. The novel seems to follow historical events as accurately as possible, considering the passing of two millennia. “Life was violence,” and so at times was birth, as in one horrific scene with Caligula’s son. The fact that Nero murders his mom will have to wait for a sequel.

Splendid storytelling about ambition, cruelty, and power.