Fortune’s Favorites by Colleen McCullough

Fortune's Favorites(Cover picture courtesy of Avon Romance.)

In a time of cataclysmic upheaval, a bold new generation of Romans vied for greatness amid the disintegrating remnants of their beloved Republic.  They were the chosen…and the cursed—blessed with wealth and privileged yet burdened by the dictates of destiny in a savage struggle for power that would leave countless numbers crushed and destroyed.  But there was one who would tower above them all—a brilliant and beautiful boy whose ambition was unparalleled, whose love was legend, and whose glory was Rome’s: a boy they would one day call “Caesar.”

While Sulla features heavily in the first part of Fortune’s Favorites, make no mistake: this is the story of Gaius Julius Caesar and his brutal early years.  You know, Colleen McCullough’s portrayal of Caesar is the most sympathetic I’ve ever come across and yet he really does some horrible things.  He crucifies all those pirates (but broke all their legs except the leader so they’d die quicker) and was utterly ruthless in Spartacus’ revolt as he served under Marcus Crassus.  At the same time I had difficulty not shedding at least a few tears at his pure grief when his aunt Julia and his wife Cinnilla died.

Sulla is fully developed as a character now; his story is clearly done by the time he gives a gigantic middle finger to Rome at the time of his retirement.  That’s when we really get into the Julius Caesar chronicles and things start to get a little more hopeful.  Sulla was always such a ruthless guy but out of all the characters you couldn’t help but cheer for him once Gaius Marius went crazy.  It was sad to see him go downhill over such a long period of time.

So it was a nice break to see Caesar finally start to succeed in life.  His bargaining with Nicomedes of Bithynia for a navy, the sheer gall he had in facing the pirates when he was captured and his strategies during the Third Servile War all seemed so satisfying, so realistic because Colleen McCullough really put a lot of effort into his character.  There are so many ways a sympathetic portrayal of Julius Caesar can go wrong (mainly the fact that hey, he did some pretty awful things) but in Fortune’s Favorites you can’t help but love him.  Even his ruthless streak.

As I mentioned in my review of The Grass Crown, Colleen McCullough has a ridiculously addictive writing style.  This book is 1004 pages long and I read it over the course of just four days, sneaking in a few minutes here and there.  Considering how busy I’ve been lately that’s quite an achievement and a testament to how much I really enjoy her writing.  She makes you really feel like you’re there in the ancient world along with all these historical figures you’ve read about for years.  (In my case, anyway.)

Really, if you haven’t picked up Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series, you need to start now.  The crazy page counts are worth it.

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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