Robert Harris’ IMPERIUM
A book review by Dennis D. McDonald
Regardless of whether I’m reading science fiction or historical fiction I really enjoyed being transported to another time and place where events and people are real.
IMPERIUM certainly fits the bill. While I was predisposed to enjoy this novel about ancient Rome I was not prepared for the level of reality and intrigue that author Harris accomplishes. We follow the early history of lawyer-orator-politician-author Cicero as he makes his way up the ladder of Roman politics surrounded by the likes of Crassus, Pompey, and Julius Caesar, all of whom are portrayed as living, breathing, and scheming characters in a struggle for power and influence.
One of the things that I found surprising in what turned out to be a “page turner” for me was that I was being pulled into the world of politics and legal machinations, not a world of swords, sandals, and brutality. Those are certainly here but only in the background. What is front and center is the story of how Cicero claws his way to the top — the Consulship — through a combination of intelligence, wit, scheming, and skullduggery.
In a world where military experience and money are the roads to power Cicero competes by relying on intelligence, planning, teambuilding, old-fashioned politicking, and a golden tongue.
What’s amazing about this novel is that so much is based on fact. The key events and people are real. We also get a sense of the physical layout of Rome, the buildings, the smells, and how people got around.
The author’s masterstroke is to tell the story from the perspective of Tiro, Cicero’s slave/secretary, inventor of shorthand, who records Cicero’s thoughts and words and who, over time, becomes a trusted confidant and friend.
We know that Harris is inventing conversations, motivations, and individual personalities but he weaves them into real events and people in a flawless manner.
I really look forward to reading the sequels!
Review copyright (c) 2014 by Dennis D. McDonald.