Druid Time, by Jack Holland -- A Book Review (A Novel About Empress Agrippina)
Not true to the title, but an excellent book nonetheless
The reviewed book, which has very little to do with druids but everything to do with Empress Agrippina, the crippled Emperor Claudius and the infamous Emperor Caligula.
During the later days of the Roman Emperors there came a succession of emperors whose corruption, apathy, or just plain malice would eventually crumble the ancient Roman Empire.
Caligula was known as perhaps the most sadistic ruler of Rome, often taking pleasure in the "games"; gladiators fighting to the death, unarmed criminals and Christians thrown to ravenous animals for the pleasure of hundreds of spectators. Caligula was also suspected of some unnatural and incestuous activities. When he finally died his uncle, Claudius, took the throne; as well as taking Caligula's recently-widowed sister, Agrippina, as his wife after Claudius' own wife was put to death for certain sexual exploits unbecoming an empress.
Agrippina has been remembered as a headstrong woman who was well before her time. She was well-versed in politics and quite often took control over various situations in ruling the empire from her "poor, weak husband" Claudius. In politics, she was successful enough to make the men very uneasy and hostile toward her. In raising children, one is given to believe she had a noted lack in ability as a disciplinarian. She couldn't stand to discipline her only son, Nero, and he grew up spoiled and self-centered. After Claudius died Nero took the throne, being all-too-content to leave the actual work to his advisors and, of course, his mother. Today he is remembered as one of the most malicious of the emperors, who burned Rome and murdered his mother when he felt she was being too overbearing.
Paulinus Suetonius is the best-known of authors of the Roman Empire whose works still survive today. He wrote several great works, including The Lives of the Twelve Caesars. Not much is known about this man beyond his writings, though some suspect he may have had an affair with Nero's mother, Agrippina.
This story is an interesting mix of historical fact and what I like to call "historical rumor". By historical rumor I mean that the author has very little outright fiction in the story (aside from specific dialog, which of course can't be accurate), but he did mix in a lot of rumors that were believed to be true even during these people's lifetimes.
story is told from the point of view of Suetonius. It starts in the
days of Caligula and ends during Nero's reign. Suetonius was a close
advisor of some of the most powerful Roman emperors, yet could never
get a governorship like he wanted. The author touches quickly on the
story of Boudica, the warrior queen, as told in Tacitus' Annals
when Suetonius is sent to Britain when Nero attempts to get him out of the way when Agrippina is murdered. The basic plot is taken from the works of Suetonius and then filled in with the various rumor, conjecture, and pure author's creativity necessary to produce a complete story.
The title is rather misleading; very little was said about the druids except a couple of little blurbs on how this period marked the end of the druid's power. The writing is very engaging, meeting the standard requirement of sucking a reader right into the story. Before I'd read half a page, I was hooked, and the author did an excellent job of keeping me hooked until the very last sentence. There is very little downtime, the author incorporates flashbacks quite effectively to avoid any lull in the pace of the story. There is, however, a certain amount of sex and violence, as well as a rather explicit explanation of Caligula's incestuous activities with his three sisters that the reader should be aware of. All-in-all, this is a highly recommended read for anyone interested in historical fiction and/or the ancient Roman empire.
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