The Blood of the Gods by Conn Iggulden

IgguldenBloodOfGodsWhy I Read It: I love this series, so I had to. It was a NEED.

Where I Got It: A review copy from the publisher (thanks!)

Who I Recommend This To: Roman Empire fans.

Narrator: Michael Healy

Publisher: Delacorte Press (2013); AudioGO (2013)

Length: 433 pages; 13 hours 54 minutes

Series: Emperor Book 5

Author’s Page

Note: I originally requested this novel via Netgalley, but had technical issues that took a while to get a response from Netgalley in order to download the book. While waiting for the response, I also requested the audiobook via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!). So, this review covers both as I listened to the audio and used the ebook to review favorite sections.

Following on the heals of the assassination of Julius Caesar, The Blood of the Gods follows Octavian (Julius’s nephew and adopted son and heir), Marc Antony (Julius’s loyal friend), and Marcus Brutus (Julius’s childhood friend and assassin). Conn Iggulden gives us a very good historical fiction that closely follows known historical facts. But he goes beyond that, bringing faces, emotions, and test of wills alive on the pages of this book. For a time, the Liberators, including Brutus, hold all the political power. Marc Antony must join with Octavian to try to punish those who killed his dearest friend. Octavian sets his two closest friends, Agrippa and Maecenas, in charge of building a navy and helping gather and command his army.

This was a very exciting book, and part of that is because it is based on very exciting times. The rest of it, is because Iggulden brings these historical persons alive on the page. Octavian’s unwavering belief that Marc Antony is his friend because of past allegiances and their current striving to bring the Liberatoris to justice becomes one of his flaws. He can’t see how dangerous Antony may be or that he may be merely a temporary ally. Luckily, Octavian has two stout friends, lots of money, and Roman military at his back. Meanwhile, Antony scorns the outstretched friendly hand of Octavian, which wasn’t his smartest move in all of history.

I loved the rebuilding of the fleet after the current fleet was given to one of Octavian’s enemies by the Liberatori-heavy Senate. Agrippa gets his chance to shine, having the ‘honor’ to build the ships, gather enough men to man them, train them on a large lake, and then have the men dig a channel to the sea, upon which they shall fight their first sea battle and hopefully win. Yeah, it can be a little tough being Octavian’s friend. But it really was fantastic, even if you are familiar with the time period and know how it plays out.

But the goodness doesn’t end there. We get a few insights into the real-life recurring illness from which Octavian suffered. We also follow a few of the Libertoris around, seeing from the inside how they cope with the turn of events. Many of these men lead otherwise honorable lives, have wives and children, and joined in the Ides of March because they believed they were freeing a nation. Overall, this is a very well-rounded, fully engaging novel.

Alas, Iggulden says in his afterward that while Octavian’s life and deeds could fill another lengthy series, he plans to leave it here. I was saddened to hear this as Iggulden himself points out that Octavian has been misrepresented many times as a weakling and/or coward when the historical record is clear that this was not the case. So who better to educate the masses than Iggulden himself? So, for now, I will keep my fingers crossed that perhaps in time he changes his mind and gives us another 3-5 volumes on the life of Octavian.

The Narration: Michael Healy had a very clear diction and even pacing. However, there was often little to no distinction between characters and he often did not imbue exciting scenes (think climatic naval battle) with any sense of excitement or urgency.

What I Liked: Damn near everything; the various covers for this book all came out really well; the characters were real – flaws, hopes, ambitions, poor choices, fears, etc. ; the afterword, in which Iggulden lets the reader know when and why he deviated from historical facts.

What I Disliked: The narration wasn’t all that it could have been; it looks like this will be the last book in this awesome series :(.

What Others Think:

Historical Novel Society

For Winter Nights

The Social Potato Reviews

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 Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden

Picabuche with my book.

Why I Read It: For fun.

Where I Got It: Own it.

Whom I Recommend This To: Roman history buffs and action-seekers.

Publisher: HarperCollins (2003)

Length: 624 pages

Series: Emperor Book 1

I love this section of history, and not just for all the dramatized literature, TV, and movies the life of Julius Caesar has inspired. So it would be hard for me to not enjoy a historical fiction based on this man’s life. The Gates of Rome does not disappoint. Conn Iggulden captured the early life of one of histories most studied characters. In this book we follow Julius as a young boy on his family’s country estate up to his early 20s and the beginning of his military career. As a boy, his childhood friend Marcus and he meet together many trials and tribulations. Tubruk, the estate manager, tries to keep them out of trouble, but it is hard work when they are constantly getting into scraps with the neighboring farm kids. Julius’s mother has suffered from some mental malady since giving birth to him and spends much of her time sequestered away. Julius’s father spends most of his time at Rome politicking. Tubruk has his hands full indeed.

As the boys age, the start their combat training under the tutelage of an ex-gladiator, Renius. He is tough, mean, unsympathetic. The boys had plenty of opportunities to die by his hand. After a slave uprising, both boys, now young men, go to live with Julius’s uncle Marius, a mover and a shaker of Rome. He has an unsettled on-going dispute with another Consul of Rome, Sulla. The two detest one another. As Julius comes of age in the world of politics and intrigue, Marcus and Renius join a legion that spends quality time in the far reaches of the Empire fighting to expand the borders.

This book was more than I expected. So much of Julius Caesar’s life is on record that this story could have had a very textbook feel to it. However, that was not the case. We saw how the boys grew to men as real people and not as some dry historical figures attached to statistics, dates, and places. I am eager to begin the second in the series.

What I Liked: That double boxing match with Julius and Marcus pitted against older, more experienced soldiers; Julius’s roof-top antics in the name of love; Marcus’s fight with one of the blue natives; Sulla’s character (in a bad way).

What I Disliked:  The love interest in Alexandria seemed a little forced; all the women are love interests or mentally deranged.