Ancient Roman book reviews! Saviour of Rome by Douglas Jackson and The Silver Pigs by Lindsey Davis

 

TWO  Roman books  this time – one a regular hardback and one in audio. Coincidentally they have similar themes, with crooks stealing gold or silver from the mines of Roman provinces but the tales are quite different.

I’m a massive, massive fan of Douglas Jackson’s Gaius Valerius Verrens character and Saviour of Rome is book 7 in the series (it’s actually up to number 9 but I rarely get time to read fiction so am only on this one so far). If you like Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, Simon Scarrow and the like, please do yourself a favour and try Jackson’s books, you won’t be disappointed.

Anyway, Saviour of Rome sees Valerius tasked with discovering why lots of the mined gold from Asturica (in Spain) is going missing. Is it a shadowy thief leading raids on the wagons, or something else?

I must admit, I was a little disappointed with the lack of fight scenes in this book. In fact, our hero, who has proven himself in the earlier novels as a lethal swordsman, is beaten up and almost killed by thugs more than once without even striking a blow in return. You’d think he’d learn but no, he stumbles about Asturica getting throttled and smashed about the head and stuff like a rookie. Once he meets up with an old friend though (who I suggested years ago could do with a bigger role in these books) the action heats up and the whole thing comes to a satisfying conclusion. Well, I say satisfying, it’s quite emotional for those of us following the series along. A surprising way to end it, and a good twist for my money.

The story is told in nice, short chapters so you can easily dip in and out at leisure and it has almost everything so I can heartily recommend it. I DO think Douglas might try making things a bit more complex going forward as there’s not much depth here, but, as a quick read, it’s perfect and I am moving onto book 8 in the series ASAP.

RATING – 4.2/5

 

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I bought this because I fancied something a little different – a mystery set in (I thought) Rome? Not the type of thing I usually listen to, so I downloaded it and started listening.

The first thing that irritated me was the narrator who plays a private informer (investigator). Don’t get me wrong, Christian Rodska is a very good reader – but he sounds like a Cockney likely lad, geezer type. It’s almost like Jason Statham or Phil Daniels (from Qudrophenia and Blur’s “Parklife” song) or even Del Boy from “Only Fools & Horses” telling the story. It just doesn’t fit with the Ancient Rome thing. He reads it almost like a comedy, and, from the text, perhaps the author, with the constant weak similes, thought it WAS very funny, I don’t know. It’s really not. The video below is how I heard the narrator.

There’s quite  a few anachronisms in the writing, like someone being termed a “punk” in dialogue and others which threw me out of the period. The hero is also terribly  beaten up a few times, to the extent he passes out – but he just gets up and carries on five minutes later with what he was doing like nothing happened. It’s completely unrealistic, almost cartoonish. Furthermore, in the course of his investigation into the disappearance of silver from the emperor’s coffers, spends THREE MONTHS, by choice, undercover as a slave down a mine in Britain. Three months in a fucking mine as a slave?! Are you kidding me? Then, after all is said and done and the case wrapped up, he knocks back the emperor’s reward because he doesn’t think he’s earned it! Forgive me, but doing three months as a slave down a mine surely earns you a pass for just about anything! Ridiculous nonsense.  Saviour of Rome actually shows one character doing just a week down one of those mines and, trust me, it’s a much more realistic view – this was a living hell and a death sentence, not something to go into on a mad whim, all the while describing it like it’s one big joke.

I don’t want to keep going on about the negatives because I DID listen to the end and I DID quite like it. It’s worth a listen and is highly regarded I believe. But one final point has to be made – the hero continually goes on about the girl he meets at the very beginning of the tale. How beautiful she is, how he wants her and so on, yet, at every opportunity, he tells us just how young she is. Her youth is mentioned over and over, repeatedly, and it’s rather creepy to be honest. Yes, Romans married children and their culture accepted all sorts of things, but I’m not a Roman, this is the 21st century, and I found this aspect of the story distasteful.

Yet, as I say, I DID finish it within a week or two, so it can’t have been that bad (I still haven’t finished Name of the Rose and probably never will!). I don’t think it’s a very old book but it did seem to lack a certain finesse modern novels by the likes of Douglas Jackson or Ben Kane have, and it comes across as being rather dated even if it isn’t really. The jokey, east end of London style narration is totally weird as well for me. It’s strange how I would enjoy a plummy, upper class British accent (like Michael Praed reading Ben Kane’s books for example) as if that’s somehow more ‘authentic’ or realistic, but that’s just how it is. I’m sure I’m not the only that doesn’t imagine Ancient Romans speaking like Alfie facking Moon.

As a story though, it follows the expected framework and has some interesting characters and very good historical titbits thrown in which prove the author did actually research things very well. The plot is good and I wonder if perhaps a different narrator, or even reading the paperback instead of listening, would have made this a more rewarding experience. Again, I don’t want to malign Christian Rodska, I think he’d be a brilliant reader for a book set in the present day, but it didn’t work for me here.

Has anybody got any Veras?

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Name that tune!

RATING – 3/5

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