Emperor: The Gods of War by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: It’s the conclusion to a much enjoyed series.

Where I Got It: From the publisher through Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: If you are into ancient Roman history, Julius Caesar era, then this is a great series for you.

Narrator: Paul Blake

Publisher: AudioGO (2009)

Length: 15 hours 22 minutes

Series: Emperor Book 4

The Gods of War picks up right where The Field of Swords leaves off: Pompey has set himself against Caesar. Pompey has seniority, the Senate backing him, Caesar’s daughter for a wife, and, he believes, the will of the Gods. Caesar has his Gaul battle-hardened troops and a good grasp of the effective use of propaganda. Conn Iggulden spent the bulk of this book on the conflict between these two powerful men and how it nearly tore Rome apart. Julius must live through the betrayal of one of his generals; Iggulden portrayed the motivations and character of both sides in that conflict. I truly enjoyed listening to the author’s rendition of how this bit of history unfolded. Pompey and the Senate flee Rome for Greece, where Caesar must follow, leaving Mark Antony in charge in Rome.

The conflict brings the two Roman armies to blood. Octavian, a young relative of Caesar, is given his chance to show his ability at commanding men in battle and his skill shines through. It was good to see Octavian become a man in this last installment in the series. The conflict eventually spreads to the shores of Egypt, to which about the last quarter of the book was dedicated. Due to the fascination with Cleopatra, this may be the most well-known episode of Caesar’s life (remember that Elizabeth Taylor film?). Julius actually took a holiday in Egypt, for roughly 6 months, traveling the Nile, sightseeing, and most likely bedding the young ruler of Egypt. They eventually had an offspring, which raised all sorts of conflict back home in Rome, to which Julius had to eventually return.

If you ever watched or read Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar, or the more recent HBO series Rome, then you know how this story ends. I won’t spoil the ending for those of you who missed out on this classic story, but I will say that I was very satisfied with the book. I felt that the motivations, fears, hopes, and desires of all the main characters were well laid out, giving the reader a very plausible rendition of how and why history fell out the way it did.

Paul Blake provided a decisive and strong voice for Julius Caesar. I also appreciated that he used the Latin pronunciation for the Roman names (such as using the ‘w’ sound for names spelled with a ‘v’). However, I sometimes could not tell when he was using his feminine voice and would have to pay extra attention to the dialogue to track when Cleopatra or another female was speaking.

What I Liked: I have long been fascinated with this period in history and I was well satisfied with this author’s rendition of it; the internal conflict of those who love yet envy Caesar was well portrayed; the battles, while detailed, were not overly gory.

What I Disliked: I would have liked to hear more about Mark Antony and why he was so favored by Caesar; the ladies were few and had limited roles and unfortunately limited depth in this series.

Emperor: The Field of Swords by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: Books 1 & 2 were excellent, and I love this time period.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap.com

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire enthusiasts, and Gaulish warriors aficionados.

Publisher: Dell Books (2005)

Length: 594 pages

Series: Emperor Book 3

Once again, Conn Iggulden has kept me up late, distracted at work, and spouting Roman marching commands in my sleep. Naughty author. Book 3 picks up right where Book 2 left off, with Julius Caesar in Gaul, conquering as far as he can see through battle and road building. Marcus Brutus is still his right-hand man, Octavian grows into a very capable horseman and soldier, and Marc Antony becomes a growing presence in Julius’s life. Back in Rome, Crassus and Pompey must match wits and resources with some less-than-savory rising powers of the city, Milo and Clodius.

So far in the series, I think this is the best novel. Iggulden switches smoothly between the two main locations, but also smoothly between the main characters, showing the rift building between Caesar and Brutus over years, the friendship growing between Marc Antony and Julius, the wrangling back and forth (with mutual respect) between Crassus, Caesar, and Pompey. I also like how the cultural arrogance of the Romans was captured: The mighty civilized Romans bringing trade, roads, light, and civilization to the heathen Gauls. Iggulden does this without passing a judgement on the rights or wrongs of the supposed moral superiority of the Romans, but simply telling it in context. The interactions with Vercingetorix, king of the Gauls, were true to form.

There’s plenty of action and intrigue to move this story forward, but it is well balanced with insights into the motivations of the characters and nuggets about life at that time. While there are few ladies and all of them secondary characters, Servilia (Brutus’s mother), Alexandria (the goldsmith), and Julia (Caesar’s daughter), they have full lives and depth of character.

What I Liked: Straight-forward writing; character-building; the way Caesar absorbed Gauls into his armies; Pompey and Crassus have to learn to rule Rome without Caesar; left in a bit of cliff-hanger (looking forward to next book).

What I Disliked: No main character women.

Emperor: The Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden

Why I Read It: Enjoyed the first book in series, love the time period.

Where I Got It: paperbackswap

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire fans, Julius Caesar aficionados

Publisher: Harper Collins (2004)

Length: 677 pages

Series: Emperor Book 2

Book 1 in this series was good, like a scoop of chocolate icecream. Book 2 is even better, like nutella on my icecream. At the end of Book 1, young Julius had to leave Rome as Sulla assumed complete control. Book 2 finds him on a ship patrolling for pirates and eventually Julius gets his ass stomped by a crew of swarthy sea bandits. Julius, his commanding officer, and a handful of other Roman soldiers are held for ransom, for months, in a cramped, dirty space. Yeah, that’s the sucky side to being in the Roman Navy.

Once free of the pirates, Julius and crew end up on the northern coast of Africa, with just the stinking, deteriorating clothes on their backs. through force of personality, Julius gathers up a ragtag army and goes pirate hunting. He eventually ends up in Greece, in time for Mithridates great final Grecian rebellion. After that, he returns to Rome for some political wrangling and assassinations. Spartacus’s slave rebellion follows that ups.

Julius Caesar lived in interesting times and he is still a young man at the end of this novel. In Book 1, I found Conn Iggulden‘s writing style compelling, yet simple. In Book 2, he has honed his story-telling ability to a riveting point, keeping me up far too late on a work night traipsing around with Caesar. I found myself reading 100-page chunks of this book at a time. Images from this book have stuck with me, such as Julius threatening the pirate captain, the formation of the Tenth legion after they suffered their punishment for cowardice in battle, his reunion with his wife Cornelia, Brutus’s blossoming relationship with his mother. I loved the juxtapositioning of Rome, a civilized, beautiful city, run by the shadowy side of politics versus the deadly open-field warfare in Greece.

What I Liked: tagging along as Brutus and Julius become men; reformation of Primegenia; the author’s version for the source of Caesar’s seizures; the factual descriptions of the Roman army in the field and on the march; the historical notes at the end of the book.

What I Disliked: The last 50 pages wrapped up several points in a hurry, and I wish the author had been given another 50 pages to flesh the ending out a bit.