Continuing his fictional stroll through classical history, Ford (Gods and Legions, 2002, etc.) provides a swashbuckling account of the exploits of Mithradates the Great, King of Pontus and scourge of ancient Rome.
Although he never quite became a household name like Alexander the Great, Mithradates (115–63 b.c.) deserves to be remembered in the company of that noble Greek, who set the pattern for every conqueror-statesman from Xerxes to Napoleon. A Persian, Mithradates grew up in the thoroughly Hellenized court of Pontus on the Black Sea, where the veneer of Greek civilization masked the brutality of Asiatic despotism. Under the rule of his weak mother, Queen Laodice, Pontus had become a vassal state of Rome, militarily impotent and economically subservient. The young Mithradates, not content in his role as heir apparent to a puppet throne, fled the palace and lived for seven years in the wilds of Pontus and Cappadocia, eventually returning at the head of an outlaw army to occupy the capital and depose his mother. As if that weren’t enough strife for one family, he then proceeded to marry his younger sister, who despised him but bore him one son before he killed her for plotting against his life. He then marauded through Cappadocia and Bythinia, gradually extending the sway of his rule until he became a threat to Rome itself. Over the course of some 20 years (88-66 b.c.), Mithradates was Public Enemy Number One as far as the Senate was concerned, and he proved astonishingly capable of rebounding from defeats at the hands of superior forces to recoup his losses with a vengeance, eventually conquering the whole of Asia Minor. Even after he met his match in the Roman general Pompey, Mithradates was able to get the last word in: He asked one of his own men to kill him, thus evading capture and execution.
Solid fun: a good, old-fashioned adventure tale with plenty of action and no narrative frills.