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Alfred Duggan

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Kveto from Prague
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Post by Kveto from Prague » Sun February 14th, 2010, 11:26 am

sure, Chris. Im always happy to find another Duggan fan :-)

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Kveto from Prague
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Winter Quarters

Post by Kveto from Prague » Sun March 31st, 2013, 11:13 pm

Initially I was a bit reluctant to read this one. It reads that it is set in the world of Julius Caesar. I thought it would concern Julius Caesar a bit too much. I've always preferred Duggan when he's dealing with more obscure characters, fewer constraints. I should have known better. Caesar never makes an appearance in this book but the book still manages to be about him.

This story follows a pair of Gaul noblemen from the Pyranees mts who join up with the Roman army under Caesar. However, the novel refuses to be predictable as the two protagonists fall under the command of the son of Marcus Crassus, most famous for defeating Spartacus years prior to the novel. It instead takes us on a tour of the Roman world, including all of the fascinating details that are a hallmark of Duggan.

The protagonists are well chosen. As noble Gauls they provide an outsiders perspective on the Roman world. The are of high enough rank to interact with the commanders but also with the everyday troopers.

For me, the most fascinating aspect is the religious one. The two characters are on the run from "the Goddess" for killing a bear in their home village. There are so many interesting details about pre-christian religions, I wonder how much of it is true and how much of it springs from the authors imagination. Interestingly, they learn the interconnectedness of all religions, which contain a male and female aspect. (Only in Judeism do they find no female aspect, interesting as both Christianity and Islam incorporated this anti-female slant as well). It might feel a bit new age to the modern reader but in the 1950s it was less known. I thought this emphasis on spirituality and religion would feel out of place in a Duggan book, but it is incorporated masterfully.

Ultimately, this story illustrates why Caesar was successful and his rivals were not. We learn much more about what made Caesar a winner by following one who tried to do as he did yet failed.

A great book.

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Kveto from Prague
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Three's Company

Post by Kveto from Prague » Sun March 31st, 2013, 11:40 pm

The previous work examined the first Triumvirate in Rome, this book the second Triumvirate with Augustus Caesar, Marcus Antonius, and Marcus Lepidus. Again Duggan does the unexpected by choosing the 3rd and forgotten member, Lepidus, as his main character.

This book is all about Lepidus and his character dominates the novel. Lepidus is a well-born politician in troubling times. Although he narrates, you can see his character and his character flaws clearly. Basically, he's an average guy, born into a position of power, but he is neither intellegent enough nor ruthless enough nor heartless enough to be a great man. In a way, it reminds me of the scene in Gulliver's travels when he meets all of the famous people from history, only to learn that they are all scoundrels and horrible people. In a way, horrible people make good rulers.

Lepidus is not horrible. He is as indecisive as Hamlet, and relies on others for advice. He has scruples when it would pay to have none and always seems to take the wrong step at the wrong time. But this makes him a very sympathetic character. In short, Lepidus represents most of us, what we, the average joe, would do in these situations. Again showing why individuals such as Augustus and Antony were remembered as winners while your average guys like Lepidus are forgotten.

My favourite scene comes early on when Lepidus is accidentally declared Imperator for not fighting. That it was unexpected shows just how out of touch his breeding put him from those he commands.

As always, Duggan writes his female characters brilliantly. Lepidus' wife Junia, Antony's wife Fulvia and the aged Clodia (whom each chapter ends with, giving a much different perspective on Lepidus than the one he paints of himself) are all clever and devious, often much more intelligent than their male counterparts.

Another brilliant book. Quite different from Winter Quarters but fascinating nevertheless.

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Antoine Vanner
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Post by Antoine Vanner » Mon April 1st, 2013, 8:32 pm

Duggan's work is quite variable. The best (like "Three's Company") are superb, as are Knight in Armour, The Lady for Ransom , The Cunning of the Dove etc. and give a real sense of the period and its attitudes. Duggan's characters are never 21st. century types rigged out in fancy-dress. Many of is books are however turgid to the point of being unreadable - a case in point being his book about Thomas a-Beckett, "God and My Right." The best advice is to try any you can get your hands on and you'll be a winner at least 50% of the time.

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sweetpotatoboy
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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Tue April 2nd, 2013, 3:42 pm

I was just going to say that I'm reading my first Duggan, Family Favourites, but I've just found a post of mine on this thread from 2009 in which I said I'd just read Three's Company, so obviously it didn't make too much of an impression...
However, I do recall it now and ended up enjoying it. This one too took a while to get going but I'm really into now.

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Kveto from Prague
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Post by Kveto from Prague » Tue April 2nd, 2013, 6:28 pm

I've just started rereading "Family Favourites". I'm reading all 10 of my Duggan books in historical order (not order of publication). It's interested as I'm starting to notice themes that I hadn't noticed originally.

I haven't read any "bad" books by Duggan, but thats because I've purposely avoided books I don't think I'd like (Cunning of the Dove, God and my right). I might buy them one day but I'm too busy re-experiencing the ones I like. I've noticed much more the second time round.

I still think "Three's company" is his best about an actual well documented historical character (as opposed to fictional characters or characters so obscure they may as well be fictional, e.g Rossoul, Cerdic, etc. Duggan is at his best with these.)

However, I think Duggans bleak realities may not suit many modern readers. No happy endings or whitewashing history in his books.

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Kveto from Prague
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Family Favourites

Post by Kveto from Prague » Thu April 11th, 2013, 6:50 pm

Moving forward in the Roman era, the focus of this book is the "mad" emperor Elagabalus, circa 218 AD. A great subject for Duggan as he tries to peel through the myths and facts surrounding this character.

Our narrator is an educated Gaul, Duratis, who joins the Pratorian guard and eventually becomes the emperor's bodyguard, so a suitable witness. We actually spend quite a bit of time with him as it takes quite awhile for the novel to reach Syria, the birthplace of the teenaged Elagabalus. The best way to describe Duratis is sober, he is our non-judgmental lens to view the emperor through.

Elagabalus is a fascinating character, his name ranks up there with decadent figures like Nero, Caligula and Commodus, but through Duratis we see that the Emperor was not really evil enough to be truly decadent. Many of the "crimes" he was guilty of in the eyes of his subjects would be seen as enlightened today. His treatment of slaves and prostitutes as people, not allowing executions without trial, his rampant homosexuality, and worst of all in his subjects' eyes, allowing women an equal voice in government.

Not to say he was a good emperor, as Duggan points out through his immaturity and delusions. And much like the last novel with Lepidus, we see that when he finally begins to compromise his principles, the end is near.

Very interesting is the way in which Elagabalus' homosexuality is viewed. Although Duratis doesnt agree, he tolerates it quite well and explain that Roman society was remarkably enlightened in that regard. I'm surprised Duggan was able to write so openly about these topics back in 1960.

Other great characters include the Emperor's grandmother and mother. As before, Duggan writes intelligent female characters. They are devious and clever, running in the circles of power but Duggan never has them fall back on the trope of having them use their sexuality in any way. They are powerful because they are intelligent enough to understand the way their world worked.

Also, there is interesting commentary on just how much beautiful people are able to get away with. The Emperor is so handsome that for the longest time his bad behaviour is overlooked. The double-standard that invokes.

Elagabalus is a poor ruler but as with the previous two novels, we see that it is his lack of ruthlessness that is the reason. This is an interesting theme in each of the novels so far with Cassius, Lepidus and Elagabalus each having positive characteristics that become flaws on the road to power

Overall, another triumph of Roman history from Mr Duggan. Reading his novels in this pattern is really helping bring out the general hidden themes.
Last edited by Kveto from Prague on Thu April 11th, 2013, 6:52 pm, edited 1 time in total.

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sweetpotatoboy
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Post by sweetpotatoboy » Thu April 11th, 2013, 8:25 pm

[quote=""Kveto from Prague""]Moving forward in the Roman era, the focus of this book is the "mad" emperor Elagabalus, circa 218 AD. A great subject for Duggan as he tries to peel through the myths and facts surrounding this character.[/quote]

I just finished reading this book and you really summarised it excellently. Superb novel!

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Post by Antoine Vanner » Fri April 12th, 2013, 8:47 am

Another Duggan Gaul who acts as narrator adn observer is "Winter Quarters". This mercenary serves with Crassus in his Mesopotamian campaign and is captured at Carrhae. He's one of the large number of prisoners who, years later, outraged Roman sensibilities by staying on in the East. Like Duggan's best work the narration is wholly credible.

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Thu May 2nd, 2013, 10:00 pm

Kveto, your reviews of Winter Quarters, Three's Company, and Family Favourites are excellent. I wanted to add that all three novels appear on the list of "The 50 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Roman History" put together for HistoricalNovels.info by David Maclaine. His reviews of these three novels are very much in line with what you say about them.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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