Caligula by Simon Turney

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This book was a spontaneous pick up from the Library. Those who usually follow my blog will notice this one wasn’t on my TBR and reading plan for January. They are closing a small library near me (not the one I normally go to, thankfully) and so in protest people have been going down and taking out loads of books every weekend. I picked this book up as I felt like the promise was interesting and I hope it helped a good cause.

Caligula by Simon Turney, quite predictably, follows the story of the Roman Emperor, Caligula. We get his story through the eyes of his youngest sister, Julia Livilla. The story starts during their childhood – in the reign of the emperor Tiberius – when they return to Rome soon after the death of their father, the celebrated general Germanicus. It then carries on through his turbulent teenage years as the great and powerful of Rome pick off his family one-by-one and then onto his time as emperor, before finally arriving at his death (I won’t tell you how and spoil the 2,000-year-old surprise) and its consequences.

My problem with this book is that I can’t make my mind up about it. I wasn’t sure after a few chapters, and having finished it, I’m still not sure.  At 450-odd pages, it wasn’t a small book either! This book isn’t bad, not in anyway, it just also didn’t catch my imagination really. I don’t really do stars – or pandas, cats, velociraptors, or whatever else you could give for books – but if I did, this book would be a solid 3 out of 5 velociraptors.

So, what was good about this book? Well, the writing was good, in fact very good. In particular, there were some very harrowing-scenes throughout which were done very well and skilfully balance between detail, shock, anticipation and pace. Aside from that, Caligula’s actions in Germania were well done, especially the fight scenes between the Praetorians and the Roman legionaries. I did also enjoy the whole concept behind the book of trying to humanise Caligula and make him a more sympathetic character than he is usually portrayed. I enjoyed the authors footnote at the back where he clearly explains his view that the Roman sources on him are clearly biased. Anyway, I’ll stop boring you now, this isn’t a history lesson; it’s a book review!

And the bad? Well, the opening half of the book was pretty slow. It felt very much like our main characters, Caligula and Livilla – and the rest of their family – were spectators in their own book, doing very little. I know the author is restrained by history itself, but the first 200 pages were almost more about Sejanus and Tiberius than Caligula. This, quite naturally, did change

Overall, I would say give this book a read if you have an interest in Roman history and 4njoy historical fiction based in this era. It is a good book, I just don’t think it will be everyone’s cup of tea.

 

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