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Posts Tagged ‘classics

Queen of the Silver Arrow

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Caroline Lawrence is an established author of chidren’s historical tales. In fact, there  are probably few to match her. She is perhaps even the 21st century’s Rosemary Sutcliffe. There are books that I consider to be children’s books, and there is another section, not quite this whole Young Adult thing, but clearly above the true children’s band. It is an interesting world, where the writing must still be aimed at young readers, but the content and themes can be more adult. Lawrence is the mistress of this style, for me.

I read QOTSA to my kids over a number of nights, and we all enjoyed it. They are a little young in truth for the book, but both mature enought to handle everything within. Callie enjoyed it for the tales of the heroic princesses. Marcus enjoyed it for the battles. I enjoyed it for the history.

QOTSA is a fascinating book. Firstly, though, a word about content. As with most great tales of the classical era, it is filled with a number of darker moments. Death in battle, the killing of animals, parental abandonment and so on. If your son or daughter is old enough to understand these things and not be adversely affected, then this book is pure gold. As I said, mine are still quite young, but we have finished the book without them being troubled by anything. In fact, I laud Caroline for tackling the more adult themes in a sympathetic and readable manner.

But what is Queen of the Silver Arrow, you say? Well, it is one of Lawrence’s current series of reworked classics. Like her other book in the series – The Night Raid – this is a retelling of a tale from Virgil’s Aeneid. This is the tale of the Trojans arriving in Italy and the native peoples rising to meet them, especially the young huntress Camilla, beloved of the Goddess Diana, who with her few companions will attempt to turn the tide against the invader only to learn harsh and unexpected truths in the end.

The final chapter, something of an epilogue, was really quite impressively emotional.

All in all, a great tale, challenging, yet interesting for kids, fascinating and strong for adults too.

Written by SJAT

October 3, 2016 at 10:00 am

Ruth Downie on the journey to Rome

with 4 comments

I am fortunate indeed today to play host to a guest post by the marvellous Ruth Downie as part of her Blog Tour, celebrating the release of her latest masterpiece ‘Vita Brevis’. As you may be aware, I’m currently reviewing the whole series of Ruth’s books, which will continue this week with Semper Fidelis, followed by Tabula Rasa and then the new book. But that can all wait for now while I let Ruth inform and entertain you in her own words. Over to you, Ruth…



Travelling to Rome – the long way

Medicus, the first book in the series that features legionary medic Ruso and his British partner Tilla, has this printed at the front:

O diva…

serves iturum Caesarem

in ultimos orbis Britannos.

Which roughly means,

Oh Goddess…

safeguard Caesar as he sets off

for the remotest regions of the Earth—Britain.


Most of the stories in the series are set in those “remotest regions:” the Wild West of the Roman empire.

“Are Ruso and Tilla going to Rome?” the editor would ask from time to time, and I would keep very quiet. Anything was better than admitting, “I don’t dare, because other writers do Rome so well.” Besides, there was plenty to write about here.

What drives the first half-dozen books is the tension between Roman and Briton, occupier and occupied—all the clashes, compromises and misunderstandings that ensue when foreign boots land on native soil. All, in some way, connected to the attempts of Ruso and Tilla to forge a life together.


We come in peace…

Even in times of relative peace, there was plenty of drama going on in Roman Britain without me having to make it up. The sale of people into the sex trade isn’t new – it’s something Hadrian tried to restrict. The use of religion to whip up violence goes back at least as far as the Druids.  The connection between power and greed comes out in a hundred subtle ways: the official traveller who bullies the innkeeper into giving him a horse he isn’t entitled to; the tax collector who demands that payments in wheat be delivered so far away that it’s impossible to avoid paying him exorbitant fees to transport them; the town councillor who tries to vote for a contract knowing one of his relatives will rake in the profit that follows. Then there’s the casual violence of soldier on civilian, and the use of false measures, loaded dice and fake coinage, some of which is on display in the British Museum.

Add in the splendid locations on offer—Chester, York, Verulamium, Hadrian’s Wall, Roman London and a brief trip to the South of France so Tilla could shock Ruso’s family—and there didn’t seem much reason to send anyone to Italy. Besides, how would the story work without the Roman-vs-Briton tension?  I’d already painted myself into enough of a corner by giving them a baby to look after.


Ah, the family pile…

But… there are stories you can tell in cities that don’t work as well in a rural society. Stories about slum landlords with horrible agents (at last, revenge for that gruesome student flat!). Stories about arriving as an immigrant and an outsider. Stories about vast buildings that reach up to trap the sky. Stories about watching your fellow-countrymen offered up for auction in a slave market. In a city of a million people it’s quite possible that an abandoned body could remain anonymous, whereas in Britannia it’s hard not to believe that somebody would know somebody else who knew the dead person’s cousin. And then there’s Pliny’s assertion that doctors are “sharks using medical practice to prey on people” and that “only a doctor can kill a man with impunity.”


There’s no shortage of material. So when Ruso’s former commanding officer invited him back to Rome at the end of book six, it felt as though it was time to take the plunge. Never mind what other writers had done. Rome was a massive city, and there would be plenty for Ruso and Tilla to get their teeth into in “Vita Brevis”. Provided, of course, they could find a babysitter.



Ruth Downie is the author of the New York Times bestselling Medicus, as well as Terra Incognita, Persona Non Grata, Caveat Emptor, Semper Fidelis, and Tabula Rasa. She is married with two sons and lives in Devon.

Follow her at ruthdownie.com and on Twitter @ruthsdownie.




A Gaius Ruso Mystery

By Ruth Downie

22nd September 2016
hardback – £16.99

Bringing both the majesty and depravity of ancient Rome to life, Ruth Downie concocts a delicious mix of crime novel, mystery, and history lesson in the latest novel in her bestselling Medicus series, VITA BREVIS.

 “Downie writes with her usual humor and depth . . . Perfect for fans of the Falco novels by Lindsey Davis, this entertaining New York Times best-selling series and its endearing characters deserve as long a run” —Booklist

“A deftly crafted and consistently compelling read from beginning to end, ‘Vita Brevis’ clearly establishes author Ruth Downie as a consummate and accomplished master of historical crime fiction” —Midwest Book Review


Ruso and Tilla’s excitement at arriving in Rome with their baby daughter is soon dulled by their discovery that the grand facades of polished marble mask an underworld of corrupt landlords and vermin-infested tenements.

Ruso finds that his predecessor Doctor Kleitos has fled, leaving a dead man in a barrel on the doorstep with the warning, ‘Be careful who you trust’. Distracted, Ruso makes a grave mistake, causing him to question his own competence and integrity.

With Ruso’s reputation under threat, he and Tilla must protect their small family by tracking down the vanished doctor – and discovering the truth behind the man in the barrel.

VITA BREVIS is brimming with humor, clever plot twists, and evocative historical details, as Ruth Downie follows her beloved characters in their next adventure.


And check out the next stop on her blog tour: A Fantastical Librarian


Wonder Of Rome

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In my head, I found myself strolling through the list of Rome’s Emperors (I can recite as far as the year of the 6 emperors by rote) and wondering whether they would make an interesting blog entry. That, in my middle-of-the-night blurry mind became something of a challenge to myself. I would take the list of Emperors and try and find something positive – an achievement – that came from the reign of each one, even the ones traditionally hailed as monsters. An intriguing proposition, eh?

I realised afterwards that I was going to have to limit myself to the emperors who managed at least most of a year in power and therefore had time to achieve something! You’d be surprised how many that knocks out of the list. I also decided to quit around the time of the introduction of the Tetrarchy, given the fact that we then have four rulers on the go at any given time, just to complicate the issue. Just a note ahead of time: this blog is light-hearted in its approach. If you are seeking Oxford monographs, look elsewhere folks. Otherwise, prepare to learn a few new facts and perhaps treat yourself to a little giggle now and then, and look out for the competition and links at the end.

So without further ado, here we go.

Augustus (27 BC-14) – How easy is Augustus? (as the actress said to the bishop). The man who ‘found Rome brick, but left it marble’? Well from my personal point of view, given what I write, I would credit him mostly with the creation of Rome’s legendary standing army in the form that persisted for centuries.


Tiberius (14-37) – May have been a depressive fruitcake, but he built a lovely set of palaces, including one on the Palatine, one at Sperlonga, and the vertiginous Villa Jovis on Capri (from which he supposedly hurled people to their deaths, but we’ll overlook that for comfort. After all, he did!)


Caligula (37-41) – Perhaps the most maligned of Rome’s rulers. An early incarnation of Joffey Baratheon. And yet after the autocratic rule of Tiberius, he found time to reinstate a proper democratic process for public officials. Now if only he’d left his sisters alone…


Claudius (41-54) – Clubfooted and stammering fool? I think not. There are many achievements of Claudius to choose from, not least the fact that this land I sit upon became Roman because of his expansion of the Empire. But I think I’d have to go for the Tiber canal works and the expansion of Ostia and Portus for trade as his greatest achievement.


Nero (54-68) – Nero (Christopher Biggins) is a toughie. And yet despite being hailed as the Antichrist by the Catholic church and having been almost universally hated throughout history, bear in mind that this evil man set a cap on the fees charged by lawyers. And who’s the greater evil: he or they?


Vespasian (69-79) – It’s hard to dislike the fat jolly genius general Vespasian. It’s easy to find positives, too. Think I’ll go with the construction of the Colosseum (not completed until after he died, but his project nonetheless.)


Titus (79-81) – Beloved of the people. In his short but eventful reign, Titus managed more than some Emperors did in a decade. But probably the thing he SHOULD be remembered for is his efforts to alleviate the suffering in the aftermath of Vesuvius’ eruption.


Domitian (81-96) – despite an unsavoury reputation in history, Domitian left Rome with some of its greatest structures. Remember him for a building program that produced the great palace on the Palatine, the Odeon and Stadium in the Campus Martius, and several temples in the forum.


Nerva (96-98) – Hard to dispute the positive value of Nerva’s new policy of adoptive heirs, selecting the best man for the succession rather than attempting to breed him (a system that had turned the Julio-Claudian dynasty into inbred 3-toothed hillbillies.)


Trajan (98-117) – One of the greats. If Domitian is to be remembered for the great buildings he left behind, then he will be eclipsed by Trajan. The Market? The Forum? The Column? I think I’m going to go with the fact that Trajan left Rome at the end of his reign at its greatest extent, never to be achieved again. Some feat.


Hadrian (117-138) – No. I refuse to use the wall. Too easy. In fact his building program empire-wide is a little easy really. But that itself was part of a massive reorganisation and repair of the infrastructure for the entire empire. Would that he could tour Britain now, eh? Our local roads are apparently corrugated.


Antoninus Pius (138-161) – Well I think we’ll have to go with Tony P’s wall across Scotland, expanding the border in Britannia to its northernmost permanent frontier in history. Probably the first man to have an erection in Glasgow.


Marcus Aurelius (161-180) – Again, only a difficult one because of too many options to choose from. I would settle for his Meditations – a philosophical tome that rivals the great Greek thinkers and showing unusual depth for a politician!


Commodus (176-192) – Good old megalomaniac Commodus is a toughie. Might be an achievement to say he left us at least 2 Imperial villas, or allowed the army to wield axes. But I’d go for – whatever you say about the effects of his conciliatory policies – the fact that the Empire had peacetime enough to breathe for the first time in decades.


Septimius Severus (193-211) Our first in many ways. The first of a far-reaching dynasty. The first African Emperor. But despite his vaunted military facets, and even his forked beard (sign of a classic movie villain), I’d remember him for embellishing the provincial city of Leptis Magna  and turning it into one of the grandest atchitectural gems in the Roman world – a fact still visible in its remains.


Caracalla (198-217) His memory may be damnatio, and he may be a fratricide, but old gloomy-pants Caracalla made every freedman across the Empire a citizen. Might have had selfish reasons, of course, both financial and military, but it was still nice for the freedmen, I’m sure.


Macrinus (217-218) – Despite a short and generally unpopular reign, Macrinus managed to positively revalue Rome’s currency. And the policy outlasted him, unlike previous attempts such as that of old hairy Pertinax (not listed here due to the brevity of his rule.)


Elagabalus (218-222) – Oh now HERE’s a fruitcake supreme.  But did everyone’s favourite Syrian weirdie leave anything of lasting benefit? The simple answer is no. Sadly, he is my real stumbling block in the list. In four years he is remembered as having done nothing that was not in some way destructive. The best I can do is note how his attempt to make Sol Invictus the prime God of Rome brought that cult to a formerly unthought of prominence for good and therefore likely influenced later Roman Christianity.


Severus Alexander (222-235) – As a personal choice, I remember him for the enormous fountainhead of the new Aqua Alexandrina, standing tall and imposing still in the Park in Plaza Vittorio Emmanuel II in Rome. The first time I saw it it lodged in my mind and stayed there.


Maximinus Thrax (235-238) – Not much positive to say about the Thracian giant. The best I can manage is that at a time when the security of the northern frontier was beginning to crumble he campaigned, won battles, and managed to secure the border for a while. That and you wouldn’t mess with him in a bar fight!


I’m going to skip the brief reigns of Gordian I & II, Pupienus, & Balbinus, but I had to mention them, just so that I could pronounce ‘poopy-anus’ aloud while reading this back and then laugh like Beavis and Butthead. Bet you’re re-reading it and guffawing right now.

Gordian III (238-244) – Despite a reign spanning six years, young Gordianus Pius managed to achieve remarkably little, due to his youth and the fact that other men governed for him throughout the period. One thing we can ascribe to him worth noting, is the ‘palace’ of Gordian at Volubilis in Morocco.


Philipus Arabs (244-249) – Despite a reign that left little of value, Philip had the honour of holding the most important (and last ever) of the Ludi Saeculares in Rome. A huge pageant involving games, races, fights, plays and more to celebrate another century in Rome, Philip’s celebrated the city’s thousandth anniversary.


Decius (249-251) – It would be nice to laud the political and religious reforms of the miserable-looking old sod Decius here, but sadly his reign was cut rather short (much like his body), and the planned reforms were never instituted. So we will have to go with the baths of Decius on the Aventine, the only great show of public works within a period of several decades of strife.


Trebonianus Gallus (251-253) – Remembered chiefly for one act of charity, when plague ravaged Rome and the Emperor paid for the decent burial of its victims, even the impoverished. In my own mind, he’s chiefly remembered for that heroic nude statue of him that makes him a pretty peculiar shape.


Valerian (253-260) – (Trying not to tut at the stupid ends some Emperors meet). Caesar Publius Licinius Valerianus Footstoolius Augustus! The most positive thing I can say on Footstool’s reign is that he reconquered the lost land of Syria. And he was probably nice and comfy.


Gallienus (253-268) – Really, in the mid 3rd century, it could be said that Gallienus’ greatest achievement is having reigned continuously for 15 year without a knife in the back. In lasting terms, Gallienus seemed to anticipate the changing nature of warfare and shifted the focus of the army towards cavalry for the first time. It might be said this was the first major step to the new field armies of the late Empire.


Claudius Gothicus (268-270) – In a time faced with breakaway states and numerous invasions and incursions, Claudius II can be remembered with pride for having begun the course of putting the Empire back together. He fought the Goths back over the Danube and restored Hispania to the Empire, weakening the breakaway Gallic Empire.


Aurelian (270-275) – Bulgarian provincial, able cavalry commander and wearer of the pointy crown, it would be nice to laud him for the reunification of the empire, conquering the breakaway states of Gaul and Palmyra. But a chunk of the acclaim for that has to go (and has gone) to Claudius II. And anyway, there is a more physical reminder of Aurelian’s reign in the form of the great impressive brick walls and gates that surround Rome to this day. The Aurelian walls rightly hold a place in the great fortifications of history.


Probus (276-282) – You may not think it, but this obscure gruff soldier emperor from the backwaters of the Balkans gave us one great gift perhaps above that of all other emperors. In order to keep his armies busy between wars, he had them plant vineyards in Gaul. By extension, he is directly responsible for seventeen centuries of French viniculture. Probus is the father of the French wine. Bet you’ll remember him now!


Carus (282-283) – Carus holds two distinctions in my eyes. Firstly, despite a short reign, he is one of very few Emperors who achieved a solid victory in Persia, holding the Sassanids at bay and avenging many years of humiliation at their hands. Secondly, he was the first Emperor to be served flambé courtesy of a lightning strike!


Carinus (283-285) – Apparently the only positive thing that can be said to have come from Carinus’ short, brutal and somewhat unpopular reign is the grandest Ludi Romani (annual games) for half a century. The fact that he held a huge party and that was his great achievement somewhat condemns the man.


Diocletian (284-305) – Diocletian’s achievements are so numerous and so far-reaching that it would be difficult to even attempt to list them. We will therefore, in order to bring proceedings to a close, go with the foundation of that most complex and bureaucratic system of rule: the Tetrarchy. While it may have inevitably collapsed through the power-hunger of men like Constantine, the changes instituted by Diocletian took a failing nation and revitalised it, giving it an edge that would keep it going another century and birth the Byzantine Empire. And… of course… he retired to grow cabbages!


So there you go. Not a comprehensive list, but it goes to show that no reign should ever be viewed in monochrome.



If you enjoy the world of Rome, you may wish to take a look at my books (top right of the blog) and perhaps visit my main website and have a read of a sample. And as a special treat, here’s a giveaway for you. Comment on this blog and tell me the most interesting achievement you can think of that came from the daddy of the entire Imperial system – Julius Caesar – and the most interesting (true) answer will receive either a signed paperback copy of my latest release (Marius’ Mules V) or the full set of 5 books in E-format, your choice. Get commenting!


If you’ve had fun reading this, read on for more Rome on the sites of my good friends on the blog hop!

David Blixt – Author of the Colossus books

Petrea Burchard – Author of Camelot & Vine

John Henry Clay – Author of The Lion And The Lamb

Gordon Doherty – Author of the Legionary & Strategos series

Heather Domin – Author of The Soldier of Raetia

Ruth Downie – Author of the enthralling Ruso mysteries

Tim Hodkinson -Author of Lions of the Grail &

Helen Hollick – Author of the Pendragon’s Banner series

Scott Hunter – Author of The Serpent and the Slave

Alison Morton – Author of Inceptio

Fred Nath – Author of the atmospheric Galdir novels

Mark Patton – Author of An Accidental King

David Pilling – Author of Caesar’s Sword & various others

M.C. (Manda) Scott – Author of the acclaimed Rome & Boudicca series

Elisabeth Storrs – Author of The Wedding Shroud

Brian Young – Author of The Eagle Has Fallen

Written by SJAT

August 15, 2013 at 8:00 am