Book Review by Ian Shone
- Format: Kindle Edition
- File Size: 418 KB
- Print Length: 214 pages
- Publisher: Endeavour Press Ltd.; 1 edition (11 Jun 2012)
- Sold by: Amazon Media EU S.à r.l.
- Language: English
- ASIN: B008AY8NFM
Augustus: Son of Rome by Richard Foreman is available from:
The Julio-Claudian dynasty has long been a goldmine for writers, from Suetonius right down to Robert Graves, by way of Shakespeare. That fertile ground has been tread and retread again by countless playwrights, novelists and screenwriters, and with the demise of the salacious and relatively recent HBO series Rome—cancelled after two series despite its popularity—one might be forgiven for thinking the horse has been well and truly flogged to death. At least for the time being.
Yet if one were going to attempt yet another revisitation of the subject, Augustus would be the most obvious candidate for a focal character. His achievements were without equal in the ancient world, and he held onto his power (and his life) for a remarkably long time. There are many surprises and contradictions in his character, at least as it comes to us through the chroniclers. He has been portrayed variously as a reluctant antagonist (Antony and Cleopatra), a power-hungry sociopath (Cleopatra), and even a benign and slightly bumbling patriarch (I, Claudius). Could Augustus: Son of Rome breathe new life into the horse for one more flogging?
Sadly, the answer is a resounding ‘no’. While the author’s love of his historical setting is evident, he seems to have little concern for what makes a novel readable. The story grinds along in a linear, episodic fashion reminiscent of Manfredi or Nigel Tranter, the kind of narrative-by-numbers approach that often betrays an author’s bias towards the history rather than the fiction. Famous names leap off the page, but they are never really fleshed out into believable characters. Almost every new scene is introduced with a lovingly described ‘establishing shot’ of the scenery. It is a world of ‘mauve skies’ and ‘saffron suns’, and when the tendency to overdescribe everything extends to love scenes the results are decidedly unpleasant.
On the whole, it’s really not very well written. The clichés come so thick and fast that the author doesn’t seem to care where he gets them from—at different points in the novel the characters quote John Donne (‘no man is an island’) and Edward Bulwer-Lytton (‘the pen is mightier than the sword’), despite the first century BC setting. There are odd leaps in tone and tenor, clusters of unnecessary modifiers and some truly horrendous phrases that suggest careless redrafting. It’s enough to make even the most hardened high school English teacher wince.
The author’s obvious love of his subject and his diligence in researching it are to be applauded. The little history lessons shoehorned into the novel are by far the most readable passages in the book, though they do get in the way of the story being told. It makes one wonder why the author didn’t try his hand at writing history, rather than historical fiction. Certainly most readers will find little here that they couldn’t find in the primary sources, except for unconvincing characterisation and sloppy writing.