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What makes a book an epic? Is it page length? Some books clock in at around 1000 pages and create an epic feel by going on and on and on. Not for me. How about time span? Is a book an epic if it spans many years and takes in the rise and fall of a generation of more? This can work if written properly, but poorly done can mean you skip over anything meaningful just to get on with the next generation. For me being an epic is a state of mind and there is not one hard and fast way to achieve it. You need to create great characters and put them in awe inspiring situations. This book does not have to be long and the story can only be about one moment in a character's life. The important thing is to write it well and make the reader compelled. Jack Ludlow's series 'Republic' and its first novel 'Pillars of Rome', forgoes what I think and instead goes for the wordy and long spanning feel - could it achieve success?
Aulus and Lucius are two young noblemen destined for greatness; one on the battlefield, the other in the political arena. Together they could be unstoppable, but a premonition they saw in their youth means that this may never come to pass; one day an eagle will come and destroy what they have built. 'Pillars' follows Aulus and Lucius through their lives as they rise to prominence; battles will be fought, loved ones lost and found, friendships tested and trusts betrayed. Will Lucius ever be able to prise full power of the senate for himself? And will Aulus ever recapture the friendship of his youth and the love of his young wife?
As a fan of historic fiction I have read my fair share of good novels in the genre, but also poor. When a book is badly researched you often find it reads untrue, or skates over large elements. This is exactly what happens in 'Pillars' and is the reason that it just does not work. Set over 40+ years the book tries to take in far too much of Roman history from the point of view of two characters. Epic battles are mentioned as mere formalities as if something that happened to someone else. Perhaps it is in part that I am a fan of work by Simon Scarrow and Bernard Cornwell, but I expect a battle to be fully researched and well detailed. I'm not against books about political intrigue as long as they remain entertaining; Conn Iggulden can attest to this. Unfortunately, Ludlow is unable to produce compelling intrigue or exciting battles leaving the reader with little more than a family saga novel.
There are so many elements that are near, yet so far, with this book. The characters are at once richly drawn, but also completely bland. The two leads have decent back stories and there is enough to make you understand their motives. However, their characteristics are so caricature that they end up being bland and boring. The rest of the cast is fleshed out with minor characters that come and go as they impact on the 40+ years of Aulus and Lucius. This means that we discover someone interesting only for them to be written out as they are no longer relevant. One character that is relevant is written about in such a way that you will not discover anything interesting about them until the next book. In book 1 we have to suffer many pages of them developing into something we might never see (I for one will not read the next book).
This sense of never knowing the characters and the fact that the battles and important events are rushed makes me feel that Ludlow is too keen to create an epic feeling novel. This does not occur as all the potentially epic elements are either used as subplots or hinted at as something that will appear in book 2. In essence the book teases the reader throughout and produces nothing of worth. 'Pillars' should be described less as Book 1 and more as a 500 page prologue to something better. If Ludlow had slowed the pace down and actually produce more books in the series (!) I think he could have improved the feel of the story. Every event is told by how it impacts the two leads rather than in their own right. This makes the book a flimsy read with no sense of purpose. Not a book on the Empire worth reading.
Author: Jack Ludlow
Price: amazon uk - £5.49