Valorie's Reviews > Roman Blood

Roman Blood by Steven Saylor
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May 01, 2009

it was amazing
bookshelves: historical-fiction, mystery, great-books, ancient-rome
Read in March, 2009

Roman Blood (book one of the Roma Sub Rosa series) by Steven Saylor centers around the real life patricide trial of a country farmer by the name of Sextus Roscius. The advocate of Sextus Roscius, the well known Marcus Tullius Cicero, employs the help of a man named Gordianus to dig up information about the murder in order to prove his client innocent. Gordianus is known as ‘the finder,’ a man well experienced in finding facts no matter how well hidden or obscure. Of course, such facts don’t come easy. There is much lying, much danger, and tons of characters only out for their own benefit that all together paint a picture of a corrupt Roman aristocracy. It is a very perilous time in Rome, after all, which has only just caught its breath from the proscription of Sulla and his restoration of the aristocracy over the common people. In order to prove Sextus Roscius innocent, Cicero and Gordianus must attack those very aristocrats that now hold Rome in a powerful grip.

I avoided reading this book for a while because I didn’t want it to disappoint me. And it didn’t.

Saylor is clearly a historian. If it’s not obvious in his reader’s notes, it’s apparent in his clear delivery of accurate and compelling historical detail. You can almost see the dark dilapidation of the Roman Subura that is as hazardous as it is teeming with life, or see the immaculate scene of Carthage on the Rostra, or imagine the men in togas sitting around the Senate. What Saylor does is bring Rome to life, but not without insult and credit where credit is due. He doesn’t present a Rome that is glorious and magnificent as some are prone to do, but neither does it portray it as a place irredeemably corrupt as others would have it. Saylor gives his readers Rome in all her shameless glory without falling into some one of the most common traps of those who attempt to write historical fiction. A tendency of most historical writers is to accentuate what is ‘abnormal’ by today’s standards because they imagine it will help people understand the time period more, or respect it for how different it is, but this often backfires. I like how Saylor did not give excuses for Rome, but didn’t gloss over the many faults. Details are presented in an easy and matter of fact way, which I found helped me get into the time period more simply because it was all given so casually.

Roman Blood is not a ‘great men of Rome’ sort of book, though it does feature many of the people we know: Cicero and Sulla to name a few. They all play their roles, as great men do, but without stealing the spotlight. Gordianus is a great character because he is likable, realistic and humble. And very Roman. I also quite like the portrayal of Cicero in Roman Blood because I think it captured his peculiarities perfectly while still redeeming him at the end when it was shown to Gordianus the doubter that Cicero is more than just a picky nag and really is one of the greatest statesmen.

Roman Blood is as much mystery as it is historical fiction. It’s full of murder, perversion, ruthlessness, and doubt. There are enough twists and turns to make the plot interesting while not so many that you lose sense of the thing. In the end, you come to understand that everyone is guilty of something in some way and even an ‘innocent’ man has committed plenty of crimes of his own.
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