Book Review: The Emperor Series by Conn Iggulden
The Gates of Rome
The first book of this four part series is entitled ‘The Gates of Rome’ and begins around 92 BC with the young Gaius Caesar and his illegitimate brother Marcus being raised together at a time when the Republic was highly unstable. Quickly Gaius has to come to terms with the death of his father (Julius) during a slave revolt throughout Rome which besieges their villa. It is after this death that Gaius takes his father’s name and turns to his Uncle Marius, a consul of Rome, as a father figure. Marius’ rival Sulla returns from Greece with a strong army, intent on conquering Rome and specifically defeating Marius. When he is successful, everything that is Marius’ is taken and those loyal to him are executed. Julius ironically is saved by his defience to comply to Sulla’s demands, and at the end of the book we see him banished from Rome.
The Death of Kings
Julius has been forced to leave Rome, and so travels with part of the Roman army. Whilst serving on a war galley in the Mediterranean, the ship is captured by pirates and everyone on board is taken prisoner and held for ransom. While the crew try bargaining to lower their ransom, Julius basically takes a stance of ‘don’t you know who I am?’ and demands his ransom raised to a price that he feels accurately portrays his importance. Eventually Julius and the others are left on the North African coast and it is here that he makesa name for himself and begins to stand out as a leader. Out of nothing he creates a small army that he takes back to Rome with him (after exacting revenge on the pirates and quelling an uprising in Greece) but when he return she finds Sulla has been assassinated and that there is yet another slave uprising led by Spartacus.
The Field of Swords
After crushing the slave rebellion and losing his wife Cornelius, Julius still cannot stay in Rome and he is sent to Spain as Governor along with Brutus and his Tenth Legion. Feeling dejected he does still continue to win new lands in and around Spain, but not with his usual gusto. However, as his friendship/romance with Marcus Brutus’ mother is re-ignited so is his lust for power and he returns to Rome in an attempt to become Consul. After spending some time in Rome in this position of power he becomes restless again and leaves for Gaul for what will become a monumentous campaign that spans over ten years; defeating Vercingetorix and invading Britain. Back in Rome, Caesar is has a somewhat infamous reputation, and when Pompey calls him back to Rome alone, he knows that he would most likely meet his death, but if he goes back with Brutus and his legions, crossing the Rubicon, then it’ll be the makings of a civil war.
The Gods of War
When it becomes clear to Pompey that Caesar is returning to Rome with a massive army to challenge for rule, he declares Caesar an enemy of the state and himself Dictator, and flees to Greece. In grave act of betrayal an increasingly frustrated Brutus, sick of constantly being in Julius’ shadow, leaves Caesar and joins Pompey. Once Rome is under his control, Caesar chases them to Greece and down into Egypt where he meets the beautiful and powerful Cleopatra who will become the mother of his only son. When he returns to Rome with wife Cleopatra in tow he is named ‘Dictator for Life’ and ‘Unconquered God.’ But as his reputation and followers grow so do his enemies, and though he tries hard to placate them, even Brutus who is given a role as Praetor, Rome just doesn’t take well to having a just one leader. We all know the rest of the story ... on the Ides of March Caesar is stabbed 23 times by various members of the Senate (including Brutus) at the feet of a statue of Pompey.
I often find myself writing that I have been completely absorbed in a book, and that I start a book and can’t put it down, but this is true of Conn Iggulden’s books more than any other. There is something about his style of writing that is gripping right from the start. I’ve never found a historical book quite like that. Perhaps that is because Iggulden does mix quite a bit of fiction in with the historical accuracy. At times it is clear that he sacrifices the truth to get a more action-packed and exciting story, but I don’t think that matters if, like me, you are reading just for a good story, which these books very definitely are.
I read the Emperor series a good few years ago, so I had to do a little research to recall what had happened in each book. I wouldn’t normally review a book that I had read so long ago, but Iggulden’s books stand out more than most because of how much I enjoyed them, and how well written the characters are. Many of the reviews I’ve read to write this have commented that the characters like Caesar and Brutus seem too heroic, larger than life, perhaps lacking some humanity. But again I don’t think this matters if you aren’t reading the book for historical accuracy. One thing that particularly impressed me was the way the battle scenes were described in great detail but without getting tiresome like you often find in films. Iggulden explains beforehand, through the leaders, how they are going to attack, what sort of formations they will have. This makes it a little easier to visualise, especially when the action moves from one person to another.
I would recommend these books to ANYONE who enjoys reading. I usually try to read history books and get bored but that is not at all the case with the Emperor series, or the Conqueror series for that matter. They are wonderfully written and so so engaging and there is a lot you can learn about the Roman Empire even if some bits are fabricated. If you are just looking purely to learn and want historical facts and are less bothered about the story as a story then I wouldn’t recommend reading this because you’ll just have to read more books to learn what is true and what is not. Although if you’re happy to do that then go for it. I cannot recommend these books highly enough.