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Roads and aqueducts

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A couple of years ago I became aware of Ron Gompertz’s opus ‘No Roads Lead To Rome’ and bought and read it. For some reason, I never got round to reviewing it, but I shall now make up for that error by reviewing the sequel with reference to the first.

Aqueduct to Nowhere is Gompertz’s third release (just out) and the second of his humorous Roman series.

I will open by stating for the record that both of these books are Historical Fiction, but with the emphasis heavily tilted towards the fiction part. Those of you who are seeking the heavy, fact-laden world of Rome, a la Harry Sidebottom, Ben Kane and the like may not appreciate the light-hearted style. It seems to me in both cases that Gompertz has not chosen the world of Rome as his arena and written a tale based in it, but rather has invented a plot and characters that enthralled him and then sought a milieu in which to base it.

Both books centre on humorous narrative with clever turns of phrase and rib-tickling moments rather than the gritty historical reality of many books set in the era. Historical accuracy is not a paramount concern, but then that is not what the books are written for. One does not slam a Douglas Adams or a Robert Rankin for their accuracy, but instead appreciates the humour they provide. And that is it in a nutshell. I have enjoyed both Gompertz’s books not as a historian but as a reader of light-hearted fiction, chuckling along as I read.

No Roads Lead To Rome was the tale of an itinerant centurion seeking his retirement pay, and an unfortunate Jewish boy sought in connection with a crime, and focused on the way the two characters’ lives intersected, involving along the way: a hapless governor, a greedy and dubious advisor, a peasant girl, a former gladiator, and a plot to do away with the Emperor Hadrian. It was a somewhat intricate plot and, while containing a few jarring historical inaccuracies, tickled me enough that I enjoyed it on its own narrative merit rather than the Classical history I had initially expected. The tale was a little disconnected at times, jumping hither and thither and perhaps a little loosely wound, but I would recommend it to a reader who sought light, humorous entertainment and had at least a passing interest in the era. That last is, however, less important than is usually the case with books set in ancient Rome.

Aqueduct to Nowhere picks up where the first book left off with a plot involving the same young Jewish protagonist, the same hapless governor and motley assembly of villains and lunatics. Set during the Saturnalia festival and involving a plot to bring the governor to trial for his crimes, ‘Aqueduct’ will appeal to the same audience as ‘No Roads’, with a rib-tickling formula that blows raspberries at serious Roman history. However, despite still displaying a fewinaccuracies, I would say that Gompertz has pulled together a lot more realistic colour and trivia for the second book, and has created a much tighter plot and narrative which lacks any of the discontinuity of the first. In fact, while historical accuracy still plays second fiddle to plot and style, there are a lot more snippets of Roman life that sneak into this book. I would also say that the author’s humorous turns of phrase have noticeably stepped up, to the point that I took note of a few corkers which sadly I cannot relate as windows update restarted my laptop and lost my list!

So there you have it. These tales – and the new book in particular – are enjoyable, tongue-in-cheek romps through a dishevelled and poor backwater province, set against the glorious, rich, deep tapestry of Hadrianic Rome. If you want a good few hours of entertainment and colour, dive right in.


Written by SJAT

October 14, 2013 at 7:57 pm

One Response

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  1. Historical accuracy be damned when there is humor afoot, I say.. πŸ™‚



    October 15, 2013 at 12:43 pm

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