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Young Gaius Caesar and his best friend Marcus cause absolute mayhem around his father's estate. For years now they have gotten into all sorts of trouble but now their minds must be focused and it is time for them to be trained in the way of Roman warriors. While the Roman Empire continues to grow the two boys are trained by an ex Gladiator until Gaius's father is killed during a slave revolt. Gaius is left as the man of the house and heads to Rome to learn politics from his uncle Marius, one of the greatest politicians and Generals in Rome. While the city edges towards Civil War, Gaius learns his trade, but what will become of the young Roman now he is a man, Julius Caesar.
This is the first part of a series of books being written by former English Tutor Conn Iggulden. Although the series does not focus on actual events as such he has used true events as a basis. From there he has expanded each story enough to make an incredibly interesting and enthralling novel. It's important to remember that it is only loosely based on true events while you are reading it. If you are looking for true accounts of Caesar's life then I'd say hit the history books but this makes fantastic Historical Fiction.
Until I discovered the joys of fantasy writing recently I'd never really taken much of a risk away from War and espionage stories. My discovery, first of David Gemmell and now Conn Iggulden has seen my range of books increase dramatically. Although I was used to sticking to set topics Iggulden has really sparked my interest in the Historical fiction genre. He has written one of the most compelling novels I've read in quite a while in The Gates of Rome.
From the start Iggulden's tale of a young Roman coming of age and stepping up to his responsibilities is very addictive. The majority of the story focuses on the training of the young Roman's and Iggulden gives an amazingly detailed account of how he perceives life would have been like back then. Whether these accounts are anyway close to the mark doesn't really matter, Iggulden's take on events in Roman times makes for addictive reading. The couple of chapters that focus on their visit to the Gladiators arena in particularly are amazingly detailed and really make a detailed mental picture.
He writes with quite a regimented chapter set up as each chapter is roughly 15-20 pages long. This keeps the story quite punchy and I found it made Iggulden's debut novel incredibly compelling as I strived to know what would happen next. I've always thought that the less detail used the more addictive the story then becomes but Iggulden has managed to use incredibly graphic descriptions of death and fights and at the same time managed to keep the story flowing along nicely.
There will be criticism for the way the book ends. It is obvious from the ending that Iggulden is making a series of books that connect together but this means that it wont be a series of books that can be read separately. I feel this means that no matter which book is the current one to get into the series you would have to return to the first book to really understand the history of the plot and who certain characters are.
It's in the characters that I really felt Iggulden hooks the reader. The main characters Gaius and Marcus are on a voyage of discovery during the book and as the story expands and their relationship matures it becomes clear the two will do anything for each other. His development of the two is key to the story and everyone else is only a minor character in comparison. I found there to be some fascinating characters within the story with the likes of Gaius's uncle Marius, one of the top generals in Rome is quite a complex and interesting character.
I felt his use of the period and the fact that all of the major houses had Slaves was used in a very intricate way. With most of the slaves you can see the clear divide between them and the heads of their house but you can see through his descriptions that certain slaves got better treatment than others. Again whether this is factually correct or not it adds another dimension to an excellent story and an impressive debut from Iggulden.
There has been a lot of praise for the Emperor series and based on this first instalment it is easy to see why. It is an incredibly compelling read and I certainly found it incredibly hard to put down once I had started. I don't have any sort of reference point to really compare him in terms of historical fiction but he certainly brought the story to life. The front of the book proclaims "if you liked Gladiator you'll love Emperor" and I have to say I'm inclined to agree. It is quite a detailed story and although at times written in the simplest forms the story is incredibly addictive and compelling. It's a book I wouldn't hesitate recommending to anyone.