You who are reading these lines will be shocked to know that I am, in fact, a Romanophile. (Well, shocked if you haven’t read my reviews of Lindsey Davis, Ruth Downie, Steven Saylor, and my constant blogging on Roman trivia…)
Anyway. This book has been on my TBR for a long while, and my only regret is that it took me so long to get to it.
What to expect
A tale of treachery and intrigue, as Wishart examines two of the worst scandals of the first decade CE in Rome. In the year 18, what starts as a simple request to bring the ashes of a dead man back from exile sends the protagonist Corvinus to unravelling backroom deals, treachery, betrayals, false accusations, and the worst military debacle of the century, all running to the very top of the empire.
What I liked
Wishart’s writing is exceedingly well researched, and he presents all the personas of the period — from the very top to those lesser known figures who made the city and the empire work — as living characters. He goes beyond the ‘bare facts’ as they are known from (nearly) contemporary reports, and weaves them together into a plausible tale of intrigue that places people and events in a logical causal chain. I personally love going down the rabbit hole of historical research (as broader understanding increases my enjoyment), but it’s not needed to follow and enjoy the story.
Stylistically, Wishart uses a modern language to bring the characters to life. He’s also using a time-honoured trope of representing the Roman patriarchy similar to British aristocracy. The result is a novel that reads as a cross between Sam Spade and Downton Abbey, on a backdrop of ancient Rome. And it works! It works beautifully, to the point that I had a grin on my face from the sheer enjoyment of reading.
What to be aware of
Though Wishart’s prose is excellent, he avoids all Latin terms to the point where it’s a bit much (like referring to a toga as a mantle, or to the Forum as Market Square). While I understand the reasoning, this is still ancient Rome — I find this affectation a bit diluting his otherwise excellent prose.
The novel was an absolute pleasure to read. If you liked works by Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor, Ruth Downie etc., you really need to read Wishart’s Ovid as well.
Side note: I started to binge-read the rest of the series (up to book 7 between the time I finished the novel and got to publish this post). I leave detailed individual reviews on Amazon and Goodreads, but will only post a series review once I finish the whole 20 books. (In between, I also read and review indie fantasy works — some really cool ones are coming!).