Newest Review: ... noted for their historical accuracy and for the inclusion of many real life characters from ancient Rome. Steven Saylor has vividly created... more
ELEMENTARY MY DEAR CICERO!
Roman Blood - Steven Saylor
Member Name: Mauri
Roman Blood - Steven Saylor
Advantages: Well written, historically accurate, good mystery
Disadvantages: None really.
'Roman Blood' is the first of a set of mystery novels by Steven Saylor collectively known as the Roma Sub Rosa series. The novels are noted for their historical accuracy and for the inclusion of many real life characters from ancient Rome. Steven Saylor has vividly created a realistic picture of the ancient city in the last days of the Republic. This is the Rome ruled by Lucius Cornelius Sulla once a great general and now taking on the title of 'dictator' a role approved by the Senate in times of crisis. Rome is a violent city with a strict hierarchy from the powerless and abused slaves at the bottom of the pile we gradually rise to prized gladiators, the free citizens, the nobility and all the way up to the upper echelons of power of the consuls, senators and governors. But Saylor doesn't simply give us the Rome of the history books with its grand buildings, its temples and the famous Forum, his vision of Rome includes the seedier side. The back street taverns and brothels, the packed tenements where the poorer citizens of the great Republic are forced to live, the filthy streets, the beggar and the street criminals, the gangs of thugs hired by rich men to settle disputes are all included in his wonderful historical vision. Described in great detail the ancient city comes to life as we are easily drawn into the story and the fate of the characters. Although I'm not enough of an expert to say first hand that all the details are accurate they certainly ring true and if so must have taken a huge amount of research to write.
Despite the many pleasures to be had from Saylor's detailed view of ancient Rome the main focus of the book is the attempt by our hero Gordianus to solve the murder central to the story. In a splendid homage to the greatest of all fictional detectives Sherlock Holmes, Saylor describes how Gordianus on first meeting Cicero's slave and messenger Tiro manages to deduce all the details of the proposed case simply by observation and deduction, a trademark trick of Holmes in many of his adventures. The story is told through Gordianus in the first person, in this way we get a particular view of roman society seen from the perspective of one who is not amongst the most respected or richest of Rome' citizens but who nevertheless as a citizen enjoys many of the rights and privileges that the republic has to offer. In Gordianus Saylor has created a compelling hero. Gordianus is a true Roman and such knows his place in the hierarchy at the same time he has taken his beautiful Alexandrian female slave Bethesda as his lover and confidant. He could set her free and marry her but his cultural more and tradition does not permit him. He sees the corruption and violence around him but accepts it and is resigned that this is how the Republic operates and will continue to be beyond the span of his lifetime of course with our historical hind sight we know that he is wrong.
As a fan of historical fiction, especially those set in ancient of medieval times I delighted in the attention to detail and the realistic setting. Saylor manages to bring together historical drama featuring some of the best known real life historical characters from ancient Rome such as Cicero, Sulla, Crassus and Julius Caesar and combine them with a good old fashioned murder mystery. Another interesting aspect of this book was the examination by Saylor of the intricacies of Roman society. He examines the complicated role of slaves in this society and their importance to keeping the Republic alive. However this is done from the perspective of a Roman citizen who although sympathetic towards the plight of some slaves doesn't share the modern sensibilities that we would expect. Saylor also delves into the treacherous politics of ancient Rome where the noble families held sway and were constantly vying for the select positions of power. This is also world filled with superstition where the people believed their fortunes rested in the lap of the many gods they worshipped.
Of course this blend of historical fiction with mystery story is no new even when this novel was first published in 1991, the most famous examples would be the medieval mysteries such as 'The Name of The Rose' by Umberto Eco and the 'Cadfael' mysteries by Ellis Peters and just like these the Steven Saylor books involving Gordianus the Finder show a talent for writing a good mystery embedded in history through meticulous research in the subject matter. The care taken in the details is what marks these books above other poorer examples.
Overall I thoroughly enjoyed 'Roman Blood' the first in this series, I found the story engrossing and the central mystery is well plotted and skilfully written. The book works as an intriguing mystery and as a realistic historical glimpse in to the lives of the citizens of the ancient Republic of Rome.
'Roman Blood' by Steven Saylor is available in paperback (384 pages) for £6.29 delivered free in the UK or for just £ 0.85 as a kindle edition at the time of writing this review.
Summary: The first story featuring 'Gordianus The Finder' in the Roma Sub Rosa series.