Review Article by Richard Blake
Wrath of the Furies
By Steven Saylor
Minotaur Books, New York
Published 13th October 2015
978 1 2500 1597 6
Since 1991, Steven Saylor has produced twelve novels about Gordianus the Finder – a private detective operating in Rome during the century before the birth of Christ. These start with Roman Blood and have so far reached The Triumph of Caesar.
They probably make Saylor our greatest living historical novelist. What I particularly like about them is that Saylor writes crime and political thrillers which just happen to be set in the distant past. There is meticulous scholarship in the books, if you go looking for it. But they succeed largely on the merits of their plotting and character development.
Nearly always with a long-running series, though, is that the author will run out of hero long before he runs out of ideas. Gordianus was born in 110BC. That puts him in his prime for the tyranny of Sulla or the Spartacus slave rebellion, or the prosecution of Gaius Verres. But it puts him in his seventies for the civil war between Pompey and Caesar. He will be gone eighty before Augustus gets his feet under the table. People could live to a ripe old age in ancient times. But Saylor’s world is one where most people were dead before they reached fifty, and where those who lived on did so without spectacles or proper dentures. Sooner or later, he will have to start straining credulity.
His answer – go back to the beginning. In the first novel of the series, Roman Blood, Gordianus is already thirty. That gives another twelve years of youthful action. The Wrath of the Furies takes full advantage of the extra time. Set in 88BC, Gordianus is still in his early twenties, and we have a story set against the real events of the war between Rome and Mithridates.
This was the greatest war of the age. Rome, after a long run of successes, was now the main power in the Mediterranean world. Though Egypt and Syria remained formally independent kingdoms, much of Asia Minor was under direct rule. But Rome was not loved by the Greeks. The Roman administrators were harsh and greedy. They were foreign arrivals in a world where the Greeks still saw themselves as the dominant nationality. When Mithridates, the semi-Greek King of Pontus, suddenly attacked, the Greeks of Asia Minor rose in his support. Roman power trembled in the balance, and the Empire seemed ready to fall even before it was fully built.
To say more would involve me in unpardonable plot-spoilers. So I will only add that Saylor has made all this the background to a tightly-constructed espionage thriller. There is not a spare page, and hardly a spare word. If you liked Roman Blood and its many sequels, you will find The Wrath of the Furies a more than worthy new instalment.
Steven Saylor website
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