A historical novel of secrets and betrayal in first-century Rome, the first in an episodic series about the infamous, mad Caesars of the early Roman Empire.
Marcus Carinna, an honorable Roman tribune, returns home to find a world turned upside down. He arrives back in Rome in the year 37, a full horde of captured barbarians in tow. His brother Publius was next in line to become the new emperor Caligula’s quaestor, a sort of treasurer. But, according to the official story, Publius was forced to commit suicide after cracking an offensive joke about Caligula’s predecessor, the sinister Tiberius. Soon after his return, Marcus, already burdened with the responsibilities of his wealthy family, becomes the new quaestor as Caligula chooses him to take his brother’s place in officialdom (and in Caligula’s own heart). Marcus has misgivings (“Father knew better: I was not as good as Publius. I was simply all he had left”) but knows it’s dangerous to cross an emperor. Meanwhile, Caligula, a once-decent but weak man “who could not bear not to be loved,” grows increasingly unhinged under the burdens of high office. Marcus soon discovers that he hasn’t been told the truth about his brother’s death. Worse still, the reality of what transpired—and of what continues to transpire inside the palaces of the powerful—nearly breaks Marcus’ spirit. A seasoned writer in the financial field, Christie (Money Harmony, 2015, etc.) knows how to build sentences that are never showy but clearly create the mood and emotional message she desires; at a funeral, for example, Marcus notes that “melting snow ran down my cheek like cold tears.” She’s clearly researched the details of ancient Rome, from the passing smells in the air to the big-picture “hillocky jumble of brown-tiled roofs and treetops that sprawled into the far distance.” As a result, the city comes alive with the long-gone characters who were its lifeblood—and if these people often seem strange enough to beggar belief, so were their real-life models.
The first installment in a page-turning saga that revisits the heroes and villains of the grandest city of the ancient world.