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Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome by Steven Saylor

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fljustice
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Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome by Steven Saylor

Postby fljustice » Sun September 12th, 2010, 8:39 pm

Over three thousand years ago, a murder takes place on an island in a river flowing through the hilly region of Italy later known as the ruma. This bloody act presages the rise of one of the ancient world's most ruthless empires. In Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome, Steven Saylor takes us on a thousand-year journey from Rome's mythical beginnings as a trading post for salt sellers through its evolution into an empire, in a style reminiscent of James Michner. Along the way we witness Hercules' destruction of the monster Cacus; the founding of the walled city of Rome by a couple of young bandits named Romulus and Remus; the abduction of the Sabine women; invasions by enemies; and revolutions by generals, plebeians and slaves. Throughout, Saylor provides us with real people and understandable motivations, whose stories have been transformed over time into the stuff of myth and legend.

Covering a thousand years in 555 pages is impossible, so Saylor uses a series of eleven linked chapters, dipping in and out of the stream of time; while following two families, the Potitii and Penarii, through the generations. Through it all, these families interact with key players in Roman history: Coriolanus, the rebel general; Scipio, known as Africanus for his defeat of Carthage; the heroes of the people, the Gracchi brothers; Sulla the dictator; and, of course, Julius Caesar. Saylor gives several key female characters some space, as well; from Lara, the founder of the line; to Potitia, a Vestal Virgin trapped on the Capitoline Hill during the siege of Rome by the Gauls; to Cornelia, the mother of the Gracchi.

The stories are not only linked by the generations, but also a physical object—a gold amulet in the shape of a winged phallus representative of an ancient nature god Fascinus. The main character—whether warrior, slave, vestal virgin, or murderer—always wears the fascinum. It begins its existence as a simple lump of gold on a chain, is later molded into the winged phallus, and ends the book worn into the shape of a simple cross. Saylor tells us in his Author’s Note that Fascinus was the name of a god sacred to the Vestal Virgins. They would place a fascinum under the chariot of those who triumphed through Rome to avoid “fascination” or the “evil eye.”

This book required a tremendous amount of research, above and beyond the stories of individual people. Saylor deftly weaves in information about the evolution of place names, food, clothing, religious institutions and practices, public holidays and celebrations, political ebb and flow. The problems faced by the growing Republic are eerily reminiscent of the challenges faced by our own, much younger country: class war, religious intolerance and witch hunts, cynical political manipulation by the rich and powerful, and war mongering to avoid domestic unrest.

I truly enjoyed this reading experience. Roma introduces the reader to events that receive short shrift in most history books. Although it covered a vast sweep of time, I felt the story telling was consistent and the characters varied and interesting. This is a wonderful achievement in both effort and results. Among the “extras”--including an interview with the author, a historical essay and reading group questions--I particularly liked the maps of Rome at the beginning of each chapter, showing the walls, major landmarks, public buildings, temples, and altars. It's a great way of showing Rome's expansion and evolution. "Thanks" to Saylor for a great read.

Note: This review is also posted on my blog.
Faith L. Justice, Author Website
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Russ Whitfield
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Postby Russ Whitfield » Mon September 13th, 2010, 10:11 am

Thanks for this review - I've got this book in hardback, bought it AGES ago, but still not read it yet (for shame). The only thing I've read that's remotely similar to this is Sarum (that years ago now) - I'm interested to try "saga" fiction again :-)

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fljustice
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Postby fljustice » Mon September 13th, 2010, 5:18 pm

"Russ Whitfield" wrote:The only thing I've read that's remotely similar to this is Sarum (that years ago now) - I'm interested to try "saga" fiction again :-)


Thanks, Russ! I read Sarum years ago and remember enjoying it. I cut my teeth on Michner's sagas, but haven't read anything like it for years until Saylor's book. It is a special genre!
Faith L. Justice, Author Website

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Michy
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Postby Michy » Tue September 14th, 2010, 2:23 pm

I really enjoy "time sweep" novels ala Michener and Rutherfurd, although it has been years since I've read one. This sounds like one I'd like, I must give it a try......

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sweetpotatoboy
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Location: London, UK

Postby sweetpotatoboy » Tue September 14th, 2010, 3:43 pm

As a huge Michener fan (and somewhat of a Rutherfurd fan), I was hoping to enjoy 'Roma' when I read it a year or so ago. And I did! I hadn't thought too much of the only other Saylor book I'd read (the first Gordianus one) so I was pleasantly surprised. Sure, it's not as good as Michener or even Rutherfurd at his best, but well worth reading and I'm looking forward to getting to 'Empire' one of these days.

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cat
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Postby cat » Tue September 21st, 2010, 8:55 pm

Great review! I really need to get to these books!!! I need my Ancient Rome fix!
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fljustice
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Postby fljustice » Tue September 21st, 2010, 9:33 pm

"cat" wrote:Great review! I really need to get to these books!!! I need my Ancient Rome fix!


Thanks, cat! I share your interest in Clive Owen, btw. Loved him and Ioan Griffudd in King Arthur. Not so happy with the director's choice of Keira Knightly in a leather bikini. :D
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Ashley
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Postby Ashley » Wed September 22nd, 2010, 1:27 am

Great review. I started this book a few months ago and could not finish it for some reason. I got annoyed - or something - by the winged phallus although I know enough about history to know that this type of amulet would make sense.

I've had a hard summer, so perhaps I couldn't focus on it at the time I tried it. I love Ancient Rome and this should be right up my alley. I did just finish Alexandria by Lindsey Davis and liked that, and I have a few of Saylor's other books. We'll have to see.

Thanks for the review!
~Ashley

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My writing can be found on my Live Journal, HERE.

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fljustice
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Postby fljustice » Wed September 22nd, 2010, 3:59 pm

Thanks, Ashley and sorry about your tough summer. Hope your fall is much better. I haven't read Alexandria yet, but am looking forward to it!
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Ashley
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Postby Ashley » Wed September 22nd, 2010, 4:21 pm

I adore Falco; this was an entertaining book although not my favorite. As I said, having a hard time focusing right now.

I have a few of Mr. Saylor's other things, so perhaps later on in the year I will try them. I also picked up Medicus by Ruth Downie - I love Ancient Rome so I need my "fix" as Cat said above. Any other suggestions?
~Ashley



King Arthur Fan Fiction, maintainer



My writing can be found on my Live Journal, HERE.


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