Colleen McCullough

The seventh book of the Masters of Rome series. I have read the first three, but unfortunately skipped the three before this (just couldn’t find them at my regular places!) but the book thankfully works stand alone too.

This book marks the transition of Rome from a republic to an empire with the principal character, despite the book title, being Octavian, heir to Caesar’s name and fortune, over the other hopeful Mark Antony.

The book spans the period from 41-27 BC, beginning with the aftermath of the Battle of Philippi and the formation of the second triumvirate with Antony, Octavian and Lepidus. The uneasy alliance between Mark Antony and Octavian is short-lived as both long to be the sole power in Rome.

Antony soon falls in love with Cleopatra, perhaps more because of the power and wealth she commands than her beauty, which is practically non existent in this version. Her dreams for her son fathered by Caesar – Caesarion override everything else and most of the book has Antony as a mere means to Cleopatra’s desire of Caesarion becoming the ruler of the world. Ceasarion not just bears a striking resemblance to his father, but is also shown as his father’s equal in mental prowess, and in addition, is a far more easily contented soul.

Standing against her is Octavian, portrayed as an astute, calculating individual supported in battle by his best friend Marcus Agrippa and off the field by his devoted wife Livia Drusilla. Ruthless as a description wouldn’t be off the mark.

The book follows the intrigue between these characters though the author has populated the book with a host of strong and reasonably well established secondary characters. The pace ensures that you don’t lose interest despite a few meandering interludes. Though the characterisation of Cleopatra, Antony and Octavian might seem biased and polarised, they appear to be well researched. The attention to detail is worth a mention too. In essence, quite a good read, especially if you’re a history buff.