Author – M. C. Scott
Published – 2010
Genre – Historical fiction, thriller
Some years ago I discovered a crime fiction author called Manda Scott and, at a time when you couldn’t just order any booked you fancied via the web, my poor husband was made to search out her books for me. She then moved to historical fiction and started her series of “Boudica” books. It may not be obvious from my blog but I am a fan of historical fiction set in Rome and have read much by authors like Simon Scarrow, Conn Iggulden and Steven Saylor but for some reason hadn’t picked up this series. Then Manda became M C Scott and there was a new series, beginning with Rome: The Emperor’s Spy and stuck in the house on a wet weekend I took advantage of the fact that you can now order any book you want from the web & get it straight to your door!
Set around AD 63/64 the book follows the fate of a group of characters who are in Coriallum, Northern Gaul in the late summer of AD. The Emperor Nero is visiting to watch a chariot race and at the same time is trying to engage Sebatos Pantera to work for him as a spy. Needless to say Nero is someone who is used to getting his own way.
Pantera inadvertently becomes involved with Math, a young charioteer and (amongst other things) part-time pickpocket, Ajax the chariot driver and Hannah the healer for the team. Their lives become intertwined both through the machinations of Nero as well as some burgeoning personal relationships.
Although the story is told from the perspectives of multiple characters it is cleverly written so they maintain some intriguing secrets that are only revealed at the end of the book. There are some great action sequences, especially the chariot racing scenes which the writing really brought to life. The story moves from Gaul to Alexandria, something else that is new to me in this context, and era. The historical detail was just what you want in a thriller, never too much to affect the pace of the story but transporting the reader both in time and place.
The period the book is set in feels a little unusual, of the “Roman” era books I’ve read I’m not sure that any have been set at this time, which deals with early Christianity. The background to the story has picqued my interest in some of the historical aspects and I may have to try to squeeze in some non-fiction reading now. I thought the treatment of Nero had some similarities with the portrayal of Cromwell in the Mantel books – perhaps a different spin on a character that has become something of a cliché.
It’s apparent that at least some of the characters appeared in the Boudica series. There was certainly no need to have read the previous books, I didn’t feel I missed out on the backstory, but I don’t think I need to go back to that series when I know what lies in store for some of the characters.
An excellent combination of historical fiction and thrilling action, I’m sure to read the rest of the series.
Score – 4/5