The third book in Colleen McCullough’s “Masters of Rome” series, after “The First Man in Rome” and “The Grass Crown”, begins just a few years after the latter. Sulla gets back to Rome, the beauty of his early days giving way to a toothless self with a hideous wig and an addiction to wine, and true to character, wreaks terrible vengeance on his enemies – Young Marius, Cinna and Carbo- and becomes Dictator of Rome.
The seeds of Rome’s Republic days were probably sown that early as Sulla changes laws that had persisted for years. But what he also aids is the rise of the two other “Fortune’s Favourites”. He gave enough room to Gnaeus Pompeius, who, very early in life gave himself the title Magnus and sought to play down the other moniker Kid Butcher, and was the wealthy provincial whose military machinations and continuous search for military glory finally made him senior consul without being a member of the Senate. Though not easily, Sulla also helps free Gaius Julius Caesar from the position of flamen Dialis, the yoke that a bitter Gaius Marius had hung on his neck before he died. And then, true to his promise, Sulla makes an exit, on his own terms.
In this book, through the later years of Sulla, and the early years of Caesar and Pompey, the author brings to life the character of Rome and its citizens. The presence of other familiar characters like Cicero, Spartacus and Mithridates add to the excitement. With a few eventful campaigns, the author also gets to pace the book well, allowing the characters to build slowly. Pompey’s supreme confidence in his own abilities, his showiness, the ignominy he suffers at the hands of Sertorius, and his tantrums when things don’t work his way all give us a glimpse of his character, a stark contrast to the confident yet subtle-when-required Caesar, whose diplomatic and military coups at an early age showed that he was destined for greatness. The brilliance of Caesar’s mind is on display as he brings a truce between Crassus and Pompey, uses his aunt’s death to show Romans that he is indeed Gaius Marius’ true successor and explains how time was his greatest ally all point to him indeed being the “greatest prime mover of them all”