For those that haven’t read any of the other five books in the series, Vespasian starts life as the idealistic son of a “new” family who goes to Rome to carve out a career for himself in the labyrinthine political system that rules the Roman Empire in the 1st century AD. As he is from a ‘new’ family he is looked down upon by the patricians who govern Rome, but as he comes from a family that has been elevated to the senatorial class he is as entitled to take up public office as anyone else, even if it isn’t made easy for him to do so.
At the start of the series the depraved Tiberius is on the Imperial throne and the subsequent books see Vespasian clinging on to both his career and his life as the insane Caligula and the intellectual, cruel and foolish Claudius both, in turn, ascend to the Purple. Rome’s Lost Son starts as Claudius’ reign draws to its close, though it appears that only the Emperor is unaware of this as the Julio-Claudian Emperors are not remembered for dying peacefully in their sleep. Vespasian becomes embroiled in plot after plot which sees him make many enemies and fewer friends as his career moves from the army, where serves in Thrace (modern day Bulgaria/Romania), to the senate and back to the army again as he leads the II Augusta Legion during the conquest of Britain.
Rome's Lost Son starts with Vespasian coming to the end of his term as Consul, a great political honour but also, in this case, a great insult as he has only been appointed to serve for 2 months rather than the normal year.
For me this is where the problems lie with this whole series of books. Anyone who knows anything about Roman history, or who has visited Rome and toured the ancient sites, knows that Titus Flavius Vespasianus, or simply Vespasian, is a real person who became Emperor in AD 69 and ruled until AD 79. It was Vespasian who built the Colosseum in Rome. Therefore all the drama of whether or not Vespasian will survive his various adventures is negated because we know that one day he will become Emperor. The only drama to be had, therefore, is in discovering how he overcomes the various dangers with which he is faced and how he will, one day, rise to the take the top job. As we are not yet close to that event that drama involved has yet to unfold
The historical backdrop against which Fabbri sets his books is researched excellently and the reader gets a real feel for the corruption and political intrigue through which Rome was ruled in the early days of the first millennium. It is a wonder that Rome was able to build and then hang onto such a vast Empire when so much scheming and murder was going on all the time. However, this is also one of the book’s weaknesses. As Vespasian discusses with his uncle and his friend Magnus the plotting of Agrippina and others I felt like my brains were starting to trickle out of my ears, so complex was it becoming. If you have ever watched the Abbott and Costello sketch "Who's On First" you may get a feeling for how confusing it was.
However this historical accuracy is undermined when we read in the Author’s Note at the end of the book that the whole story of Vespasian’s mission and, therefore, the plot of this book is made up. The historical events that take Vespasian to Armenia are real enough, but his participation is not. Vespasian dropped off the radar in Ancient Rome for 12 years after he stepped down as Consul, presumably living a quiet life on his country estates. He only re-emerges when civil war threatens the Empire after the death of Nero. This story covers the first 3 years of that 12 year period so we must expect more fictional adventures until the timeline of the saga reaches about AD 68.
If you can get past knowing that Vespasian will one day become Emperor and you can gloss over the complexity of the political plotting, the book is very entertaining. It is well paced, the characters feel real, and the drama, especially the battle scene, is well handled. Fabbri knows his stuff when it comes to Roman political and military history and gives everything a very authentic feel.
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