Emperor: The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden

(Cover picture courtesy of Barnes and Noble.)

In a city of grandeur and decadence, beauty and bloodshed, two boys, best friends, dream of glory in the service of the mightiest empire the world has ever known.  One is the son of a senator.  The other is a bastard child.  As young Gaius and Marcus grow to manhood, they are trained in the art of combat—under the tutelage of one of Rome’s most fearsome gladiators.  For Marcus, a bloody campaign in Greece will become a young soldier’s proving ground.  For Gaius, the equally deadly infighting of the Roman Senate will be the battlefield where he hones his courage and skill.  And for both, the love of an extraordinary slave girl will be an honor each will covet but only one will win.  But as Rome is thrust into the grip of bitter conflict, as every Roman prepares to take sides in the coming battle, Gaius and Marcus’s friendship will be put to the ultimate test.

For two thousand years, people have been wondering who Gaius Julius Caesar really was and in his bestselling novel, Conn Iggulden attempts to answer this.  Very little is known about Julius Caesar’s childhood and he presents a semi-plausible explanation for what shaped the great general’s early years.  While I commend him for his cinematic, dazzling novel, I wish he had not sacrificed historical accuracy for the sake of drama.

Conn Iggulden admits in his ‘Historical Note’ at the end of the novel that he changed how Caesar was related to Marius, when Marius died and even how the dictator Sulla himself died.  The first change was completely unnecessary, the second and third were for the sake of drama alone.  Many of the changes Conn Iggulden made were unnecessary, but he was writing for the mass market instead of Roman historians.

The character of Julius Caesar is an excellent, well-developed one.  His determination to prove himself and his love for Cornelia are all very realistic and make the mythical figure of Caesar into a living, breathing human.  The Gates of Rome is a good book for people who do not mind historical inaccuracies and complex politics in historical fiction.

I give this book 3.5/5 stars.

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