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Thursday, 15 May 2014

Roma, Steven Saylor


Steven Saylor

Reviewed by Richard Saar

I’ve always been fascinated by the Romans, ever since I read my first Asterix & Obelix comic book in fact. My personal library has always had a good amount of Roman fiction in it and there’s a lot out there to choose from. So, when I was handed a copy of Steven Saylor’s Roma, I was pretty pleased, I doubt that I would go more than 6 months without getting into some Roman action.

Roma fits nicely into the “epic saga” genre of historical fiction, not so much a simple novel, more a journey through a longer historical era, here we go from about 1000 BCE to just up to 1 BCE, a nice broad historical brush and a fascinating time for Roman history buffs.

The saga revolves around two of the first families of Rome, one a family of salt traders who ply their trade along the river Tiber, and the other a family of Metal traders who cross the same river in their journey from the mountains to the sea.

These families meet for the first time on a small island in the middle of the Tiber, a place where Rome will eventually be founded. A fateful meeting it is; a child is conceived and murder is committed and covered up, binding these two families as rivals for power and influence over the next 1000 or so years.

The real star here is the history...   it’s fascinating to read more about the city through all of its various phases. Saylor does a great job crafting the historical setting which is excellent throughout; it’s vividly described and really gave me a sense of those times. In fact for me the most enjoyable part of the book was the exploration of the eras of Rome that we never really hear about.

However, perhaps out of necessity each chapter, or more accurately each vignette of life in Rome as seen through the struggles of the two families, tends to be brief, perhaps a bit too brief. Whilst we get to know the families and their ever changing fortunes, there isn't really a character that I felt I could sink my teeth into.

Perhaps it’s a function of the epic saga style, perhaps it’s the writer not giving each chapter enough time, or a bit of both. As much as I liked this book, and I liked it a lot, it just felt a little underdone. A bit more character development and a bit less historical exposition may have elevated this to an outstanding example of the genre. As it is, it will have to make do with just being a pretty good one.

Don’t get me wrong, these are minor gripes, I really enjoyed the book, it sets a great pace that made me fly through the book and is an interesting historical examination of Rome through the eyes of many generations of the two families.

IBR Rating

Recommendation: Well worth the read for fans of the Epic Saga genre of historical fiction, in fact for anyone who's a fan of Roman fiction this is a top addition to your library.

Source: A gift...  the best way to get books!.

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Item Reviewed: Roma, Steven Saylor Rating: 5 Reviewed By: Richard Saar
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