S.J.A. Turney's Books & More

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The Last Caesar

with 12 comments

Howdy everyone who’s probably forgotten I exist. Sorry for my prolonged absence from the blogsphere. Quite simply, between Callie (our 6mth old baby girl) and my book deadline, I’ve had about ten minutes free time since New Year.

However: update. I have now finished the book I’ve been working on which, due to a disastrous prior attempt, has actually taken 10 months, a timescale hitherto unthinkable for me. This is the reason for my heavy concentration on the writing to the exclusion of almost everything else. News about that book will be forthcoming as appropriate. In the meantime, I’m announcing my return to the blog world. This week I’m adding the frosting to the top of the book, and next week I begin Marius’ Mules IV in earnest. However, I can now relax my pace a little and allow a half day each week to blog and catch up with all my friends who I have unforgivably abandoned.

So to open with, and because the timing is propitious, I’m blogging about a book on the day before its release in an effort to make you buy it…


It’s a rare thing to be in on a secret from square one, and so I feel sort of privileged to have had a heads’ up about a new author of Roman fiction considerably prior to the release of his debut work.

I heard about The Last Caesar by Henry Venmore-Rowland from a couple of friends who are both renowned reviewers of books (Kate & Parmenion – click names for their sites.) Both had had early proof copies of the book for review. My own pile of books to read is currently vying for world’s tallest structure so, while I was looking forward to the release, I was also grateful that the delay would give me time to get through a few tomes first.

And then I received unexpectedly and from a friend, a proof copy of the Last Caesar. Dutifully, I shuffled it into my TBR pile close to the top, and then launched into it.

It’s always a gamble reading a debut novel. They can be good, and they can be appalling. Whichever it is, it’s expected for you to be nice to them. This is compounded by the fact that I met Henry in person at the book launch less than a month before I received his book, and found him to be a charming, intelligent, self-effacing and engaging fellow.

So I read The Last Caesar. And I read it in a few short days. It was a good enough read that I found myself reaching for it whenever I had a minute or two free, and I therefore have no trouble recommending it. I’ve posted my review of it, and copied it below, but first: here are some pictures and links. You see, the Last Caesar is officially released tomorrow (although, for some reason, Amazon will sell you it today – perhaps they like it as much as I do.)

Go buy it and read it.


Images: Henry (stolen from Kate with thanks) & his new book.

Read Henry’s blog here.

Buy the book from Amazon UK here.

Follow Henry on twitter here.

Henry’s Facebook page is here.

Product Description (from Amazon)

AD 68. The tyrant emperor Nero has no son and no heir.

Suddenly there’s the very real possibility that Rome might become a republic once more. But the ambitions of a few are about to bring corruption, chaos and untold bloodshed to the many.

Among them is a hero of the campaign against Boudicca, Aulus Caecina Severus. Caught up in a conspiracy to overthrow Caesar’s dynasty, he commits treason, raises a rebellion, faces torture and intrigue – all supposedly for the good of Rome. The boundary between the good of Rome and self preservation is far from clear, and keeping to the dangerous path he’s chosen requires all Severus’ skills as a cunning soldier and increasingly deft politician.

And so Severus looks back on the dark and dangerous time history knows as the Year of the Four Emperors, and the part he played – for good or ill – in plunging the mighty Roman empire into anarchy and civil war…

My review:

I managed to secure an early proof of Henry’s debut and set to reading it as soon as I could.

My main concern before I started was not the unknown quantity of a new author, but more the fact that, being set around the end of Nero’s reign and the year of the four emperors, the ground has been covered from several angles before by others.

As usual, with my reviews, I won’t go into too much detail as I don’t like to risk spoilers – I hate having things revealed to me before I read a book.

In essence, the book follows the actions and journeys of a young Roman nobleman in relatively minor posts, and who yet plays a pivotal role in the end of a dynasty and the complicated succession.

For me, the main character (from whose retrospective viewpoint the story is told) is solid and the reader can often empathise with him (he has a few flaws that give him extra interest), though he perhaps stands out less than some protagonists of other major Roman histfic novels. This didn’t really matter, though, as I found Henry’s supporting characters to be so lifelike and engaging and well put-together that I relished their every appearance.

In addition to the cast of supporting characters, I would say the main strength of the novel for me was the narrative style. There is a ‘stream-of-consciousness’ to the main character that really worked for me. Sometimes he rambles off subject or peters out, and I really enjoyed that. It made the book very engaging.

Add to this turns of phrase that often made me smile, a sprinkling of particularly powerful scenes (one of which was heart-wrenching and you’ll know to which I refer when you come to it) and the solid descriptive, and it all pulls together into a rather excellent debut.

If I have a concern with The Last Caesar, it is that the book is only half a story (or possibly less). Very clearly, a second book will pick up where this one left off, and might take us to a solid conclusion. When you reach the end of TLC, the final page might as well say “Next week, on The Last Caesar…” That’s no bad thing, of course, but it leaves me grumbling about the fact that the sequel has only just undergone its initial completion and is a year or more away yet.

Simply, I was suitably impressed with The Last Caesar, and I expect any lover of the era (particularly the principate period) will thoroughly enjoy getting their teeth into it.

Roll on the next book, Henry. The First Flavian?


Parmenion Books’ review here

Still not convinced? Read Kate’s review here

Written by SJAT

June 20, 2012 at 12:15 pm