Monday, December 13, 2010

The Gates of Rome (Emperor #1) by Conn Iggulden

Emperor: The Gates of Rome: A Novel of Julius Caesar (The Emperor Series)SUMMARY (by the publisher): From the spectacle of gladiatorial combat to the intrigue of the Senate, from the foreign wars that created an empire to the betrayals that almost tore it apart, the Emperor novels tell the remarkable story of the man who would become the greatest Roman of them all: Julius Caesar. The Gates of Rome introduces an ambitious young man facing his first great test. In the city of Rome, a titanic power struggle is about to shake the Republic to its core. Citizen will fight citizen in a bloody conflict – and Julius Caesar will be in the thick of the action.


The Gates of Rome describes Caesar’s childhood and growing up. As Iggulden explains, there is not much data about the early stage of Caesar’s life. Yet, Iggulden combines the existing data with fiction in the way which gives us a credible and compelling story about the influences that shaped one of the most important people in history.

In The Gates of Rome we first meet Caesar as Gaius, an energetic son of a rich and powerful senator. Gaius is very protected, well cared of, careless boy, full of naughty and childishly innocent ideas to occupy himself with in his free time. In his childhood ventures, he is accompanied by a friend, a bastard son of a prostitute, Marcus. Marcus provide a different view on the life for Gaius, he shows him the insecure world of those without privileges. The dissimilarity between Gaius and Marcus is depicted in the different ways they are being treated by Gaius’s father and their teachers. Their friendship, however, is strong as a brotherhood would be. They are utterly loyal to each other, they support and help each other despite the occasional fights and misunderstandings. Their friendship is what keeps them going when hard times come, which they face first together, then eventually separated, but even a long distance apart, the knowledge of one another’s existence help them persevere.

Thus, Iggulden presents the relationship between Gaius and Marcus as, if not the most important influence on Caesar’s life, certainly as the most constant one. Just as delicately as Iggulden tackles Marcus’s influence on Gaius, he deals with other influences. He shows the reader the impact the powerful consul Marius, Gaius’s uncle, and his disregard and exploitation of the law for his own benefits might have on his young nephew. Iggulden colourfully describes the landscape and infrastructure, everyday life, the training and studies, the mentality behind the political tactics and intrigues, and the love which eventually enters Gaius’s and Marcus’s lives.

Additionally, Iggulden does not forget to remind the reader of the cruelty of the world. He vividly describes the brawls between boys, the brutal training and battle techniques, the gladiator fights, the slave rebellion, the civil war and the encountering with hostile barbarians. Iggulden describes fighting and killing in detail, both in terms of technique and weapons and in terms of consequent injuries, all of which he illustrates precisely in all its bloody horror. It takes a strong stomach to read several quite numerous parts of such descriptions.

Reading The Gates of Rome, I thought of how cruel and scheming the old world used to be until I realised as I was thinking about it that the world hasn’t really changed. Instead of paper and messengers on horses, we have media and modern means of communication, and instead of swords, daggers and fists, we have automatic guns and nuclear missiles, but basically the humanity has not improved: it is still much about personal gain achieved by politics, intrigue and warfare. In this aspect, The Gates of Rome is a kind of a mirror for modern people to look at ourselves and at what we have made of civilization in more than two thousand years.

RECOMMENDATION: This is definitely a book for people who are interested in history in all its splendour and squalor. It convinced me to definitely read the rest of the series. It contains some explicit violence, so I would not recommend it to very sensitive readers. 

1 comment:

  1. Great review! I loved the well-balanced, detailed presentation of the book you delivered. I really like history and although I am not well acquainted with the history of Rome, it fascinates me, so this is definitely a book for me - and a certain cousin of mine, our family historian.:)It seems that Rome was both an elegant and brutal world.


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