Paperback: 496 pages
Publisher: Corgi; Reprint edition(12 Feb 2009)
Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the thirdRoman Emperor, is better known by another name: Caligula, a name synonymouswith decadence, cruelty and madness. His reign was marked by excess, hugebuilding projects, the largest gladiatorial battles Rome was ever to see – menand animals killed in their hundreds – conspiracies, assassination attempts andsexual scandal.
Rufus as a young slave grows up far from thecorruption of the imperial court. His master is a trainer of animals for thegladiatorial arena. Rufus discovers that he has a natural ability with animals,a talent for controlling and schooling them. It is at the arenas that Rufusmeets his great friend Cupido, one of Rome’s greatest gladiators.
It is his growing reputation as an animal trainerand his friendship with Cupido that attracts the cruel gaze of the Emperor.Caligula wants a keeper for the imperial elephant and Rufus is bought from hismaster and taken to the imperial palace. Life here is dictated by Caligula’sever shifting moods. Caligula is as generous as he is cruel, he is amegalomaniac who declares himself a living god and simultaneously lives inconstant fear of the plots against his life. But his paranoia is not misplaced,intrigue permeates his court, and Rufus and Cupido find themselves unwittinglyplaced at the centre of a conspiracy to assassinate the Emperor.
Our first meeting of Gaius in the prologue highlights thesadism prevalent in his character – even as a child. It’s times like this I wish I wasn’t so visual when reading!
The first part tells us the story of how Rufus moves frombeing a slave to the baker to be the slave of animal keeper Cornelius AuriusFronto. We learn of the trust Frontohas in Rufus and how the dwindling of livestock for the arena prompts Rufus’idea of how the animals can be used differently. It is the success of this that leads to Rufus being recognisedand later being taken by Gaius to work with his elephant. We come to understand Fronto and Rufus’father/son relationship. In the arena,we meet gladiator Cupido who is central to the plot.
I have to admit that the extreme feelings associated withthe arena had me gripped. You canimagine how it is waiting to go and fight, hearing the other deaths before it’syour turn to please the Emperor in the arena! When Rufus does his first and only display with the animals, the authorwrites in such a way that you also feel the numbness and fear that Rufus isfeeling.
Emperor Tiberius dies and so the reign of death, destructionand torture begins with Gaius as Emperor. Through Rufus, we become involved in court intrigue, scandal and theplotting of the different factions. Insome places, the violence is graphic but I have to admit gripping! There isloss and heartache. Surprisingly, thereis also love …………. love between a man and a woman but also love betweenfriends.
I enjoyed walking the narrow streets of Rome again, browsingthrough the different wares the booths were selling and seeing the greatarchitecture. I didn’t enjoy the smellof blood or decomposing bodies quite so much ……….. but they’re such an integral part of Caligula that it’s all partof the adventure!
There is a lot of historical fact included in Caligula. It follows quite closely to what we knowfrom historical records (see Wikipedia for more information on Caligula).
At no point while reading was I bored. In fact I was so caught up in this journeythat I was loathe to put the book down. Caligula has taken me on a trip to the past and involved me in livesthat became real to me. It has made meconfront the dark shadows that are inherent in all of us. I hesitantly turned the pages towards theend (even though I wanted to know what would happen!) because I just didn’twant it to end. For these reasons, I amrating Caligula with my four fairy rating.
Caligula is the first novel in the Roman Novels series. This is followed by Claudius (16 Jul 2009),Hero of Rome (paperback due out 13 Oct 2011), Defender of Rome (out in hardback18 Aug 2011) and Avenger of Rome.
You can find out more about Douglas Jackson on his Official Site.
Buy it but be loathe to share your copy – it’s a keeper!