A couple of nights before my school speech-day, it suddenly occurred to me that I had to choose a book to be given, as I had won a prize. Hurriedly, I made my way to the bookshop with my ‘Speech-day Token’ and searched for a book. What to buy… The email said that the book must be below £20 and also it must ‘look impressive’. This alone bewildered me – how on earth can a book look impressive? Nonetheless I understood that it ought to be a hardback, and it ought to be as big as possible. However the books I like to read tend to be little old-fashioned paperbacks, borrowed from my mother’s bookshelf.
After searching through the classics and the language books, I decided to venture somewhere that I rarely go: the Bestsellers. I was wary that I might pick up some trashy 50 Shades of Grey type book, and so I searched with extreme caution. I caught sight of the largest book, placed on a stand on display – it is safe to say that the cover looked ugly and childish. Now the Oundle Bookshop has a brilliant collection, so, rightfully, I thought, as this book is so celebrated, it must be good. Nevertheless I was still worried about the cover – everybody at speech day would see it, and it looked utterly silly! Perhaps this book is for children?
I resolved to buy the book, not only because it is a Bestseller, but also because it is about Caesar and Augustus/Octavian/Caesar (or whatever he is called). I have always been fascinated by the first Emperors of Rome (although they never took that title), and I have just read Massie’s Augustus, which I would recommend to any Classicist, or Historian or keen reader.
So a week later, when I had finished my first book of the summer (The Bell Jar), I opened the fresh pages of Emperor: The Blood of Gods. I was immediately encapsulated by the pace of the book, dropped into the centre of the plot (with the assassination of Julius Caesar) on the first page. Conn Iggulden gives a balanced version of the story, despite clearly taking sides with the protagonist, Octavian, as almost all historians do. The story is shown from many character’s points of view, devoting each paragraph to a certain figure. This gives the reader a more steady view of the events.
Iggulden (the author), in my view, characterises Octavian brilliantly – headstrong, intelligent and amiable. However I wonder whether the author wants us to question one thing – in the Aeneid, Aeneas’ biggest mistake is letting his ‘furor’ take over, inevitably leading to his killing of Turnus. Is Octavian not making the same mistake by killing the ‘liberatores’? – the Romans who murdered Octavian’s adoptive father, Julius Caesar. It makes me question whether that is the reason why Octavian had Virgil write the Aeneid – if a ‘hero’ like Aeneas kills his enemy, then it is okay for Octavian to do so. Right? I think this could be what Conn Iggulden is getting at – is Octavian completely righteous?
Not only is The Blood of Gods a great fictional story, it is also incredibly historically accurate. Iggulden admits to changing a few key things, such as the name of Liberatore Brutus’ wife (changed by one letter), and occasionally the order of events. I learnt a huge amount about ‘The First Emperor’ (Octavian), and Iggulden clearly did his research, often adding small details such as the very popular Roman fish sauce.
With a mix of pace and brilliant writing, Iggulden has written a memorable novel. I recommend it to anybody as an easy summer read, but also for a keen Historian/Classicist. Despite being good for kids, I am certain (having looked at other reviews) that adults will enjoy it as well! I give it 4.5 stars!