Book Review: The Throne of Caesar by Steven Saylor

Posted December 23, 2019 by Kathy Davie in Book Reviews / 0 Comments

Book Review: The Throne of Caesar by Steven Saylor

I received this book for free from the library in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

The Throne of Caesar by Steven Saylor
Series: Roma Sub Rosa #12
Genres: Historical, Mystery
Published by Minotaur Books on February 20, 2018
Pages: 400
Format: Hardcover
Source: the library

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Also in this series: A Murder on the Appian Way

Also by this author: A Murder on the Appian Way , Rubicon

Twelfth* in the Roma Sub Rosa historical mystery series revolving around Gordianus the Finder set in ancient Rome. The Throne of Caesar begins on 10 March 44 B.C.

* Combining my own chronological system of inserting short stories between the full-length novels and Saylor’s chronological list of his books, The Throne of Caesar is number 12.

My Take

The story is split into Gordianus’ concerns about Caesar’s intended elevation for him, reflecting back on the past, and worrying over the requests made of him by Caesar and Cicero.

It starts with a flashback to when Gordianus first met Tiro (Roman Blood, 1; Tiro is now nearly sixty), Cicero’s secretary, for Cicero again wants to speak to Gordianus.

Unfortunately, the pace is so incredibly slow, that I kept putting it down. Another unfortunate point is how dim Gordianus seems. How could he not see all those clues Saylor kept dropping?? Yeah, we know he’s clueless as Saylor is using first person protagonist point-of-view from Gordianus’ perspective, so we know he’s getting the same information we are.

It’s sweet how Gordianus notices Bethesda’s pleasure in her greater status, and how she and Diana are wallowing in all this acceptance!

I find it so fascinating that the men of Rome are so interested in poetry. Cinna notes that a poem is still alive in the mind of a poet rather than dead and unchangeable on the printed page:

“To read a published poem is like examining the corpse of a beautiful woman.”

Boy, Caesar is deceiving himself about a lot of things. That law Caesar wants passed about multiple wives…hoo, boy. It is so true that absolute power corrupts…

As usual, Saylor keeps us informed about the lack of women’s rights while writing of their manipulations and plots. Of Diana’s desire to take over her father’s business in Rome. On the power of women in the ambitious Fulvia who draws a parallel between Cinna and Caesar, of their fantasies of rape and power. Only Cinna’s is home-based and Caesar’s are of conquest.

Oh, lol! Gordianus speaks of women who have their own ways of divining. Outside the control of men! Ahh, I would love to see a Roman man’s reaction if he suddenly popped up in our society today *more laughter*.

It’s darned handy that Saylor makes use of Spurinna as a haruspex who predicts that Caesar must be careful for a whole month, ending on the Ides of March. Keeps that tension up, for we all know about the Ides, yet we haven’t any idea how Saylor plans to get through the Ides.

It was the aftermath that was so sickening. The allowances that were made, even as others, e.g., Antony’s speech about Caesar, made some good points to those traitors.

One of the few bright spots was the books Caesar had been donating to the Library of Alexandria.

It’s a tale packed with characters who drive all the action — so very much action! Unfortunately, Gordianus is so absorbed in his own musings that it’s a tedious read in spite of my curiosity as to how Saylor would treat Caesar’s end.

The Story

Even though Gordianus is retired, he’s suddenly inundated with cases from Cicero and Caesar. Cases that could have such impact, if only Gordianus had been paying attention…

The Characters

Gordianus the Finder, the last honest man in Rome, is a retired detective who now lives on the Palatine Hill, a most exclusive neighborhood. It suits his elevation to the Equestrian class. Bethesda is his wife, a slave he bought in Egypt, whom he manumitted and then married (Catilina’s Riddle, 3). Diana is their daughter who is anxious to take over her father’s business. She is married to Davus, who frequently acts as Gordianus’ bodyguard. Diana and Davus have two children: Aulus and Beth. Makris is the children’s nursemaid. Bast is Bethesda’s beloved cat. Well, not the original, but yet another. Meto is one of Gordianus’ adopted sons, a former slave of Crassus‘ (Catilina’s Riddle, 3) and a soldier working closely with Caesar.

Eco, Gordianus’ eldest (adopted) son is married to Menenia. He’s taken over his adopted father’s business and moved to Neapolis with the twins: Titania and Titus as well as the mute Rupa, the youngest of the adopted sons of Gordianus who now serves as Eco’s bodyguard, and the two slave boys, Mopsus and Androcles (Rubicon, 6).

Gaius Julius Caesar is the Dictator, the Father of the Fatherland, who rules Rome and lives in the Regia in Rome. Calpurnia is Caesar’s wife, although Queen Cleopatra is his mistress installed in his country house. Caesar and Cleopatra have a son, Caesarion. Hammonius is Cleopatra’s Psyllus, a snake handler, who can save a person who has been poisoned. Piso is Calpurnia’s father and executor of Caesar’s will. Hipparchus is Caesar’s chief litter-bearer. Porsenna had been Calpurnia’s haruspex, and then Spurinna came along. Gaius Octavius is Caesar’s grandnephew and protégé.

The Senators of Rome
Marc Antony is Caesar’s right-hand man who finally abandoned his affair with Cytheris, an actress. He’s still too fond of the drink but is now married to the most ambitious widow in Rome, Fulvia, who has her own spy network all over Rome. (Fulvia’s first husband was Clodius ((A Murder on the Appian Way, 5)); her second had been Curio, one of Caesar’s most promising lieutenants ((A Mist of Prophecies, 8)).)

Gaius Helvius Cinna is Rome’s foremost poet particularly renowned for his Zmyrna, a tribune, an ally of Caesar’s, and Gordianus’ drinking buddy at the Salacious Tavern. Although, Antony is his dearest drinking buddy. Helvia “Sappho” is his only child, a daughter. Polyxo is her nursemaid. Parthenius of Nicaea is the poet who tutored Cinna.

Senator Marcus Junius Brutus is descended from the Brutus, Lucius Junius Brutus, who drove out the last king and founded the republic 400 years ago. He’s also been appointed urban praetor. Servilia is Brutus’ rude mother. Porcia is Brutus’ new wife and his cousin. Cato had been Porcia’s father, Brutus’ uncle, and Servilia’s brother. Gaius Cassius is married to Brutus’ sister and has been made praetor and appointed him as governor of Syria. Artemidorus, a famous Greek rhetorician, is tutor to Brutus’ son.

Marcus Tullius Cicero is a renowned politician, former, who has gone up and down too often, making him quite security conscious, but still believing in Roman law. Tiro is still working for him, but as a free man now. Sextus Roscius had been Cicero’s first major trial (Roman Blood, 1). Cicero’s daughter, Tulla, had died in childbirth.

Spurinna is both haruspex and newly made Senator. Dolabella is to have the consulship. Decimus Junius Brutus Albinus is a senator new to Gordianus, handpicked by Caesar to rule Gaul. Lucius Cornelius Cinna is a praetor whose sister had been Caesar’s first wife; Julia, Caesar’s daughter, had been a favorite niece. Calvinus will become Master of the Horse. Gaius Trebonius lures Antony away. Speculation is rife that Lucius Tillius Cimber wants Caesar to recall his brother, Gaius, from exile. Gaius Servilius Casca, Publius Servilius Casca, and Gaius Cassius Longinus are still more senators.

Marcus Aemilius Lepidus is a treasured ally of Caesar’s. He’s married to a half-sister of Brutus’. He’s to become governor of Spain. Meanwhile, his legion will invade Rome.

I think an haruspex sees the future through entrails, a Roman rite of divination. Arcesilaus is a fine artist. Mamercus is the finest tailor of senatorial togas in Rome. Vulca was one of the greatest Etruscan artisans. Antipater of Sidon had been Gordianus’ old tutor (The Seven Wonders, 0.5). The Subura is Rome’s most dangerous neighborhood. Simonides runs a bookshop. They can mount your scrolls and include glorious handles and/or rollers. They also make copies. It’s also the only place where you can buy Cinna’s Zmyrna. Marcus Artorius is a disabled centurion of the Seventh Legion. Father Liber is worshipped by Fulvia and represents Dionysus and Bacchus.

The tale of Zmyrna
She was the daughter of King Cinyras and the boastful Queen Cenchreis.

The women of Lemnos
Princess Hypsipyle had a nursemaid, Polyxo. King Thoas is her father.

Bacchus had been born of a Theban princess and Jupiter. Agave was Bacchus’ mortal aunt and mother of young King Pentheus, who was as rigid as Bacchus was liberal. The Bacchantes were women who celebrated Bacchus; when in a frenzy, they became Maenads who could tear apart humans.

King Romulus, the first king of Rome, was assassinated by the first senators. The Furies are Alecto, Megaera, and Tisiphone.

The Cover and Title

The cover has a vicious brown background of men in pastel-toned togas, holding knives over their heads, coming up behind Caesar’s back as he sits on this throne in a red toga over a white tunic, wearing a band of laurel leaves, his right arm crossing his chest while his left holds something, a stylus as mentioned in the book??, next to a barrel of scrolls. The text is all in white starting with the title at the very top in two different fonts and three different sizes in a marble effect. In teeny tiny print set to the right of Caesar’s head, we are informed that this is a novel set in ancient Rome. The author’s name starts below Caesar’s waist in the same marbled font. At the very bottom is an info blurb.

The title refers to The Throne of Caesar which represents the power of Rome and of Caesar.

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