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The Throne of Caesar

by Kilian Melloy
Thursday Feb 15, 2018
The Throne of Caesar

Almost a decade ago Steven Saylor, author of the popular "Roma Sub Rosa" mystery series, brought readers up to the very eve of Julius Caesar's assassination in 44 B.C. Saylor then intrigued and entertained us with a trip of books following the exploits of Gordianus the Finder as a younger man having adventures around the ancient world, sticking to his mixture of historical fact and inventive fiction as he did so.

But readers have been holding their breath waiting to see how Saylor -- and his most famous creation, Gordianus, an intellectual force to reckoned with with a nose for trouble -- will address the most famous political assassination in human history. It's time to take in a collective gasp: Saylor has written that book. It's called "The Throne of Caesar."

The new novel is the capstone in another trilogy, albeit an unofficial one -- the "Caesar" novels, which began with "The Judgement of Caesar," then continued with "The Triumph of Caesar." This latest -- and, as it turns out, last -- installment in the "Roma Sub Rosa" series sees Caesar himself once again playing a part. (How could he not?) Meto, the son of Gordianus, is Caesar's most trusted confidant and a talented collaborator in the writing of his memoirs. Following the events of the last two books -- in which Gordianus not only survived civil Rome's upheavals but prospered, thanks to his wealthy clients and their generosity -- Gordianus and his family are now part of Rome's upper class, and thanks in part to Meto's status Gordianus is about to receive an even greater boon from the hand of the dictator.

But all is not peace and sunshine -- neither metaphorically nor meorologically. As the Ides of March approach, great storms crash over the city, and powerful men believe that an intangible -- but very real -- threat to Caesar's life is gathering itself. Cicero -- the same nobleman who years ago engaged Gordianus to help clear a Roman accused of the area crime of patricide -- now calls on the Finder to look into the question of who might wish Caesar harm. At the same time, sinister forces also threaten Gordianus' friend and drinking companion Cinna, Rome's greatest living poet, who has only just completed a new poem of such force and sublime beauty that it will cement his reputation for all time. But are these threats real? If so, are they connected?

Saylor ventures into a Rome still wracked with dread and rage following years of division and civil strife. The air is heavy with portent and thick with danger, and the novel's pages give off a sense of anxiety even as Saylor dips into curious sidelines involving sacred ancient rituals no man was even meant to witness. Even as Gordianus moves from noble house to noble house, his new membership in the city-state's upper echelons granting his access as never before, he encounters cloaked hostility -- and not so cloaked -- at every turn. Marc Antony and his wife Fulvia remain friendly, but others -- such as Brutus -- make no secret of their disdain for the Finder. Could Gordianus himself be at risk?

Saylor knows how to fill his readers with apprehension even while keeping his narrative uncluttered. Much of the book's impact comes from what isn't directly stated. And if you think you know the ending to this particular murder mystery in the making, be assured that Saylor knows how to plot a complex yarn and spring a surprise or two.

"The Throne of Caesar" stands firmly on its own, but Saylor gives his fans some well-calibrated moments of service. Ongoing relationships are deeper and more nuanced; familiar faces reappear, older now but still full of life; Saylor playfully drops in references to his previous novels, sometimes calling them out by name. Above all, "The Throne of Caesar" is a mood piece, and the mood Saylor evokes sweeps superstition, terror, and majesty into a tale of murder that's a much a political thriller as a whodunit (or a who-is-gonna-do-it). If this really is the end of the "Roma Sub Rosa" epic, Saylor concludes the series on a high note -- and in style.

"The Throne of Caesar"
by Steven Saylor

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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