Masters of Rome, the fifth in Robert Fabbri's excellent Vespasian series has Vespasian once again at the head of Legio II Augusta, involved in the Roman subjection the British tribes of south west Britannia, whilst back in Rome mayhem abounds with political intrigue and power play.
I have read all of Robert Fabbri's excellent Vespasian series to date and enjoyed them immensely, this latest offering does not disappoint.
As with all the previous books in the series this sequel is well written, fast paced and overall well researched; intrigue and visceral bloody action, interwoven expertly with historical fact and his innate sense for the epoch involves the reader like few other authors of Roman fiction can.
I have noted that some reviewers have been put off by the supernatural element involving the Druids, very little is known about this mysterious cult, however superstition was certainly rife amongst the Roman legionaries as to their supernatural power and abominable practises (Tacitus and the Roman invasion of Anglesey). Perhaps Fabbri has pushed the bounds of artistic license on this one, but for me this did not detract too much on an otherwise thrilling read.
The fifth instalment of Fabbri's Vespasian series contains all of the things readers of the four earlier books will like: military exploits (Vespasian has to continue helping in conquering Britannia), precise descriptions of swords piercing bodies and people being flayed alive, political intrigue in the heart of Rome and, of course, Rome's upper class taking part in decadent orgies. The latter two elements are particularly pronounced this time as the second part of the book deals with the rise of the emperor Claudius' wife Messalina to the height of her power and her attempt to overthrow her husband. In addition to that there is a lot of mysticism in this novel: Vespasian has to confront the Britannic druids and their supernatural powers repeatedly.
I didn't like these supernatural parts of the book all that much because I don't think they fit the overall realism of the series. On the other hand Fabbri manages to describe everthing that happens very vividly - as always. And, as he explains, in the author's note at the end of the book: Some of the most spectacular events come directly from the historical sources (Tacitus, Suetonius, Cassius Dio) who seem to have shared Fabbri's taste for sex and violence even though modern historians believe they weren't always altogether truthful in their depictions of deceased emperor's and their families.
But who cares? Their writings enable Fabbri to pull off another action-packed novel while being able to claim he stays true to the historical sources. Not the best of the books in the Vespasian series, but hugely entertaining and instructive at the same time.
I think the novel was good, but weaker than previous ones. I really disliked the supernatural powers of the druids, it was too far fetched. What I most enjoyed was the writing, I just love the details and depth of the research. Looking forward to the next book.