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Empire: The Novel of Imperial Rome by Steven Saylor

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fljustice
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Location: Brooklyn, NY
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Empire: The Novel of Imperial Rome by Steven Saylor

Postby fljustice » Thu August 26th, 2010, 5:05 pm

I snagged an Early Reviewers copy of this book through Library Thing. The book will be out on August 31. Here's a condensed version of the review I posted on my blog:


Empire continues the story of the Pinarius family chronicled in Steven Saylor's earlier novel Roma. Roma followed the aristocratic family from the founding of Rome through the Republican years. Empire picks up at the end of Augustus' reign and concludes at the end of Hadrian's, covering about 130 years and four generations of Pinari. Saylor sets himself a Herculean task to cover the major events and people of the times in an entertaining and accessible way using a formula perfected by James A. Michner in his historical epics. He mostly succeeds.

Each "chapter" of the book covers a different Pinari generation and varies in the quality of the story telling and character development. The first chapter is the briefest at 68 pages and seems to exist solely for the purpose of filling in a bit of Roman back story before Lucius, the main character and his family are banished to Alexandria, Egypt. Things pick up after that. The remaining three chapters are much longer and Saylor does a better job of developing the characters, both his fictional and historic ones.

The most interesting relationship is that of Titus (in the second generation) with Nero. Saylor does an excellent job giving us insight into one of Rome's most complicated and misunderstood emperors. My least favorite Pinarius is Lucius (of the third generation) who spends his life depressed; doing nothing but staying out of sight of the various emperors who reign during his long life—primarily the lesser known Flavians, Vespasian and his sons Titus and Domitian. He is Saylor's vehicle for introducing these fascinating emperors and meeting some of Rome's famous philosophers and writers, but has almost no substance of his own.

Where he falls short on character development, Saylor excels with the historical details. The pitfalls and snares of various emperors and their courts are rendered in chilling detail. Not only the details of politics and religion; but fascinating facts on food, clothes, architecture, and fire control are deftly slipped into the story. His description of what it was like to be in the audience of the Flavian Amphitheater (the Roman Coliseum) was one of the best I've ever read. Ditto the building scenes in the fourth chapter as Marcus Pinarius helps build the Trajan pillar and renovate the Pantheon. Saylor obviously did his homework and it shows. Except when he is describing something, Saylor's writing style is satisfactory, but not sparkling.

In summary, I found Empire a mixed bag; lots of credit for covering such an epic time period with accuracy and interesting detail, points off for uneven character and story development, and an average grade for writing craft. I'd recommend this book to people who want to get an overview of the time period in an interesting way. Folks who are already steeped in the events and historic characters might find the book frustratingly shallow. I'm not faulting Saylor, so much as the format. Multi-generational epics are notoriously hard to write with any depth. Kudos to Steven Saylor for his effort.
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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fljustice
Bibliophile
Location: Brooklyn, NY
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Postby fljustice » Sun September 12th, 2010, 8:59 pm

I've also posted a review of the first book in Saylor's series: Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome which is available here and on my blog. Enjoy!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website

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laktor
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Postby laktor » Wed October 6th, 2010, 2:33 am

Many thanks for your reviews. I enjoyed Roma very much and will eventually read Empire (I've bought it), but am reading two new lengthy novels at the moment, so it will have to wait a bit.


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