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I've always loved historical fiction as a genre and cut my teeth on Hornblower and Tai-Pan, Flashman, Sharpe and Jack Aubrey. I still remember the sheer joy at reading my first Patrick O'Brian book and discovering there were nineteen more in the series. I love just about anything by David Gemmell, or Peter F. Hamilton or Wilbur Smith. I suppose the one thing that links all those is the love of a good tale.
    Conn Iggulden

Nevermind the overlap there with my own list of favorites, I hardly know a straight white male who doesn't share at least a few of those. One other we might add is Jack Whyte, because Mr. Iggulden's own effort is in some ways reminiscent of that author's Roman Britain series--the Camulod Chronicles--and both seem certain to join the classics in the historical fiction genre.

This first from Mr. Iggulden features two young boys--Gaius, the son of a Roman Senator, and Marcus, an orphan--growing up on an estate just outside Rome. With Gaius's father often absent because the rise of Sulla threatens the Roman Republic and with his mother prey to madness, much of the boys upbringing is left to the estate overseer, Tubruk, a former gladiator. He in turn brings in one of the most famed gladiator's of the day, Renius, to train the boys to become soldiers worthy of Rome. Much of the book deals with the brutal regimen that Renius imposes, one that makes them men but causes them to hate their harsh mentor. When the final test he subjects them too leads to almost murderous violence an elderly healer, Cabera, fortuitously appears on the scene and the lives of the two young men and the three older become entwined as the action moves to the city and then to service in the Legions.

The great strengths of the novel include not just Mr. Iggulden's facility with the historic setting and background but his ability to render action scenes in virtual Sensurround and, most of all, the characterizations of these five and of the great men and the women with whom they become involved. Tubruk, Renius and Cabera are perhaps the best trio of supporting characters this side of the Musketeers and Henryk Sienkiewicz's Pan Longinus, Pan Michal Wolodyjowski and Pan Zagloba.

It's a thoroughly satisfying novel and all the more impressive for being his first. Mr. Iggulden's own story is interesting as well, as told here -PROFILE: Debut novel writer finds his place in history (Nigel Reynolds, 08/09/2001, Daily Telegraph):
The first book by Conn Iggulden was a historical novel about Julius Caesar and has led to a fierce bidding war between publishers and a contract for £306,000.

Now Mr Iggulden, 30, will leave his job at St Gregory's Roman Catholic Comprehesive in Kenton, west London, in December to make writing a full-time career. Mr Iggulden, who has been at the school for three years, was asked to stand in for a colleague and give a history lesson 18 months ago.

Thinking quickly, he told his temporary class a story about Emperor Augustus standing at the foot of Julius Caesar's statue in Rome and throwing the decapitated head of Brutus at it.

He then decided to write a fictional epic about Caesar and spent holidays researching ancient Rome. The result was a novel called Emperor.

The first agent he sent the manuscript to was bowled over by the book, decided it should be offered to publishers as the first part of a trilogy following the course of Caesar's life and within weeks secured £306,000 for a three-book deal.
Read the book--it's worth every penny.


Grade: (A+)


See also:

Historical Fiction
Conn Iggulden Links:

    -AUTHOR PAGE: Conn Iggulden (Harper Collins)
    -Conn Iggulden (Wikipedia)
    -ESSAY: In Praise of Skinned Knees and Grubby Faces (Conn Iggulden, June 24, 2007, Washington Post)
    -PROFILE: Debut novel writer finds his place in history (Nigel Reynolds, 08/09/2001, Daily Telegraph)
    -INTERVIEW: Conn Iggulden (Meet the Author)
    -ARCHIVES: "conn iggulden" (Find Aricles)
    -REVIEW: of Emperor: The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden (Rachel Hore, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Gates of Rome (Clayton Moore,
    -REVIEW: of Emperor: The Death of Kings by Conn Iggulden (Clayton Moore)
    -REVIEW: of Emperor: The Field of Swords by Conn Iggulden (Sue Arnold, The Guardian)
    -REVIEW: of Field of Swords (ERIK FLOREN, Edmonton Sun)

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