Book Corner: Commodus by Simon Turney

Worshipped by Rome. Betrayed by love. Stalked by death. Rome is enjoying a period of stability and prosperity. The Empire’s borders are growing, and there are two sons in the imperial succession for the first time in Rome’s history. But all is not as it appears. Cracks are beginning to show. Two decades of war have taken their toll, and there are whispers of a sickness in the East. The Empire stands on the brink of true disaster, an age of gold giving way to one of iron and rust, a time of reason and strength sliding into hunger and pain. The decline may yet be halted, though. One man tries to hold the fracturing empire together. To Rome, he is their emperor, their Hercules, their Commodus. But Commodus is breaking up himself, and when the darkness grips, only one woman can hold him together. To Rome she was nothing. The plaything of the emperor. To Commodus, she was everything. She was Marcia.

Commodus by Simon Turney is the second in his The Damned Emperors series, exploring the lives of those emperors even Rome wanted to erase from history. The first in the series, Caligula was a fabulous and intelligent read that really made you think about the political intrigues of ancient Rome. Commodus is no less thought-provoking.

The thing that struck me after reading both Caligula and Commodus is why on earth would anyone want to be emperor – or even close to the emperor in ancient Rome. Yes, the job came with ‘phenomenal cosmic power’ (as the genie in Aladdin would put it) but you did not expect to die in your bed – unless it was from poison or an assassin in the night.

What makes The Damned Emperors series so unique is that Simon Turney uses the women close to the emperor to tell his story. In Caligula it was his own sister, Livilla, who witnessed her brother’s rise to ‘the purple’ and followed his story to an inevitable violent conclusion. In Commodus the tale is told through Marcia, a childhood friend who rose to be the emperor’s lover and consort, though not his wife and empress. Each woman is able to narrate the emperor’s life and the events which shape his personality and rule. Each book is a standalone.

‘I’m supposed to turn my other cheek to you, ignore your violence and forgive you. And because I want to be a good Christian, I’ll do that. I’ll forgive you but only this once.’

He made .to push me again, but perhaps something in my expression stopped him. Certainly, he stepped back. I was a freedwoman of the emperor Lucius Verus, and he was a slave. I had allowed him to get away with pushing me over in anger, but I had warned him not to do so again. For my part, I meant every word. I would punch him in the eye if he tried again. For his part, I suspect he thought I meant I would report his behaviour to the major-domo, which would have seen him beaten at the very least. Whatever the case, he walked away. As he reached the door, he paused and turned.

‘In the old days, they used to burn your sort.’

And then he was gone. I seethed, shaking, promising myself that one day I would settle that score. I received my second shock in a short space as Commodus emerged from the shadows near another door, confusion creasing his young, innocent face.

‘What’s a Criss-chen?’ he asked, stumbling a little over the unfamiliar word.

Hmm. I thought lessons would be cancelled today, what with Fulvus bedridden, but it seemed I was to teach instead. I thought long and hard on the question as he watched me with those intelligent, searching eyes.

‘We believe in only one God. He is the creator of all things and the world is made according to His plan.’ I shrugged, trotting out the words I’d heard so many times. ‘There’s more to it, but that’s the main thing.’

‘Which god?’

Marcia’s own story is as fascinating as that of the emperor she adores, and serves as an example of how power corrupts not only the leaders, but those around them. Marcia is an interesting character who uses necessity and love to justify actions that many would find questionable, if not downright abhorrent. And yet you can’t help liking and sympathising with a woman who had little real power and influence over her own life, let alone anyone the emperor’s!

Simon Turney is a master of intrigue and has a remarkable ability to get inside the head of the women who lived alongside these emperors. And then into the heads of the emperors themselves. You cannot help but have sympathy for these great men, who rose to such heights that they practically ruled the world, but could trust no one. His knowledge of Roman history is second-to-none and he puts it to good use in depicting not only the Roman psyche, but also the Roman way of life.

Simon Turney vividly recreates the streets of Rome, the buildings, people and events to the extent that you can practically smell the markets, the blood in the arenas and the wondrous aromas of the lavish meals served to the imperial family. As a consequence, you can also feel the despair and despondency of the poor and unrepresented populace – the plebs and the slaves – who are ignored and left to suffer famine and plague by their indifferent rulers.

Commodus is not always an easy read, but it is fascinating. It draws you in from the very first pages, and leads you on a journey of discovery, not only of the emperor himself but of the life of the imperial family. It is eye-opening! Beautifully written and addictive, it is one of those books that you can’t wait to finish – and yet, desperately want it not to end.

To buy the book:

Commodus: The Damned Emperors Book 2 by Simon Turney is available from Amazon in the UK and US.

About the author:

Simon lives with his wife, children and dogs in rural North Yorkshire. Having spent much of his childhood visiting historic sites with his grandfather, a local photographer, Simon fell in love with the Roman heritage of the region, beginning with the world famous Hadrian’s Wall. His fascination with the ancient world snowballed from there with great interest in Egypt, Greece and Byzantium, though his focus has always been Rome. A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, history and architecture, Simon spends most of his rare free time travelling the world visiting historic sites, writing, researching the ancient world and reading voraciously.

Simon’s early career meandered along an arcane and eclectic path of everything from the Ministry of Agriculture to computer network management before finally settling back into the ancient world. During those varied years, Simon returned to university study to complete an honours degree in classical history through the Open University. With what spare time he had available and a rekindled love of all things Roman, he set off on an epic journey to turn Caesar’s Gallic War diaries into a novel accessible to all. The first volume of Marius’ Mules was completed in 2003 and has garnered international success, bestseller status and rave reviews, spawning numerous sequels. Marius’ Mules is still one of Simon’s core series and although Roman fiction features highly he now has Byzantine, Fantasy and Medieval series, too, as well as several collaborations and short stories in other genres.

Now, with in excess of 25 novels available and 5 awaiting release, Simon is a prolific writer, spanning genres and eras and releasing novels both independently and through renowned publishers including Canelo and Orion. Simon writes full time and is represented by MMB Creative literary agents.

Look out for Roman military novels featuring Caesar’s Gallic Wars in the form of the bestselling Marius’ Mules series, Roman thrillers in the Praetorian series, set during the troubled reign of Commodus, adventures around the 15th century Mediterranean world in the Ottoman Cycle, and a series of Historical Fantasy novels with a Roman flavour called the Tales of the Empire.

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My Books

Silk and the Sword: The Women of the Norman Conquest

From Emma of Normandy, wife of both King Cnut and Æthelred II to Saint Margaret, a descendant of Alfred the Great himself, Silk and the Sword: the Women of the Norman Conquest traces the fortunes of the women who had a significant role to play in the momentous events of 1066.  Available now from Amazon UK,  Amberley Publishing, Book Depository and Amazon US.

Heroines of the Medieval World

Telling the stories of some of the most remarkable women from Medieval history, from Eleanor of Aquitaine to Julian of Norwich, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is available now on kindle and in paperback in the UK from from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon, in the US from Amazon and worldwide from Book Depository.

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©2019 Sharon Bennett Connolly 

Book Corner: South of Burnt Rocks

Over on The Review blog!

Read my review of G.J. Berger‘s wonderful South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon.

 “After three great wars, Rome has crushed Carthage. Now the undefended riches of Iberia beckon–gold, tin, olives, wine, and healthy young bodies to enslave. Burnt Rocks tells the story of Lavena, last child of the strongest remaining Iberian tribal leader at a time when Rome plunders and loots her land. At times helped only by her father’s favorite dog, a special horse, or guided by spirits of the earth and sky, she strives to unite her people and oust the Roman menace. Based on real characters, places, and events, Burnt Rocks recreates that shadowy history–and eternal human nature rubbed raw.”

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South of Burnt Rocks West of the Moon was a wonderful surprise.  It is one of those thought-provoking books that you don’t come across very often; transporting you back in time to the Roman occupation of the Iberian Peninsular. The heroine is a young girl, Lavena, not yet out of her teens, who is trying to fulfill her promise to her parents and save her people, whilst at the same time coming to terms with her father’s past.

Having peacefully co-existed with the Iberian natives, the Roman army has a new leader, and new agenda. They are searching for their lost scouts, for native gold, and eager for slaves. The Romans are relentless but Lavena must find a way to fight them with her small band of devoted warriors.
Among the Roman legions is one man, Martius, who searches for the truth about his missing brother but is also drawn to the ‘barbari’ girl, who appears to him in only glimpses through the trees.
The wonderful prose of the book draws you in,  the language paints its own picture of Roman occupied Spain, respecting the spirits and ancestors of the native tribes and weaving a spell that keeps you enthralled in the book to the very end.
When Lavena has to face a council of elders to give them the news of Rome’s aggression and  to plea for help, the picture is vividly described, the words magically entrancing:
“We humbly come to you, to this village, without any men, because the Roman overseer, Piso, left this land, and Rome sent a monster army in his place.”
The nobles quieted and leaned in further.
“That new army has more fighters and weapons and its killing madness is greater than I know how to tell you – and it comes this way.”…
“They come for all the gold in this land, for the young ones to take back as slaves – and the young women and girls to ruin in a manner none should ever know.”
… She told them what she could of the battle for her village, but not about how her mother and those with her died, not about the real end of the she-warriors. She told them how she fled.
 

 

G.J. Berger recreates the land of the Iberian Peninsular wonderfully; describing the landscape and its people in such amazing language that you can’t help but feel transported there. The contrast with the vast fighting force of the Roman army, the inexorable, unbeatable military machine that moves over the land relentlessly.
The characters are vivid and have a realism to be marvelled at. They are human, suffering through their fears and doubts, making mistakes and sometimes surviving in spite of themselves. You find yourself urging Lavena on, while feeling suitably disgusted at the mean, lascivious, grasping Roman leaders.
Throughout the book, you can feel the author has a strong sense of direction; he knows where he wants to take you, but knows that the journey is what matters. We follow Lavena from her training as a warrior, through the loss of everything she holds dear, to her final confrontation with the Roman army, knowing everything she has been through, everything that has led her to that moment…
I can’t tell you how much I enjoyed reading this novel. It was a surprise from the first words, drawing you in, leading you on Lavena’s journey and seeing the country of Spain in its early days; the landscape itself becoming part of the story. The sights, sounds and smells of Roman Spain invade your mind as you read.
It is hard to believe this is a debut novel. The storyline is impressive, the language polished; everything about it comes from a storyteller of immense skill and vision.
It is a book not to be missed.
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My book, Heroines of the Medieval World,  is now available in hardback in the UK from both Amberley Publishing and Amazon UK and worldwide from Book Depository. It is also available on Kindle in both the UK and USA and will be available in Hardback from Amazon US from 1 May 2018.

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