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By Kilroy, March 2007; Revised
|Imperium - By Robert Harris. Simon & Schuster Inc, 2006. |
Being new in the realm of ancient Roman politics could be tough, and rising to the top, regardless of opposition from the leading statesmen of the time, was even tougher. However, Marcus Tullius Cicero, a humble Novus Homo (or ‘new man’) out of Arpinum, managed to do all of this and more, and it's all detailed here in Robert Harris’ latest novel, Imperium.
Now, usually when I approach works of historical fiction - especially when it revolves around one of my favorite periods in history (Late Roman Republic) - there are a few questions I tend to ask myself; Will the author do the history justice? Will it be accurate? Thankfully, Harris put all of these fears to rest. Harris’ writing style is excellent. The story of Cicero engulfed me as I spent hours at a time being sucked into his world of politics, wit and oratory. Harris is a veteran fiction writer (author of Enigma, Fatherland, Pompeii) and he utilizes all of his experience and skill to create an excellent work of historical fiction.
I was surprised to see just how true Imperium stayed to the events surrounding Cicero’s life. Harris utilized Cicero’s own letters and orations to great effect. The history is accurate and authentic. Harris filled in the holes quite nicely and stayed true to the Roman atmosphere. I almost felt like I was actually walking in Cicero’s retinue, down to the forum during the late morning to witness one of his great orations. Cicero is shown with all of his virtues and shortcomings. Harris does an excellent job of humanizing a person whose letters and orations have been the source of only translation woes for many students of Latin.
Also, have no fears if you are a laymen to the world of Roman history. Harris does an excellent job of introducing the various Roman offices and traditions in a very accessible way, while still keeping it very entertaining. The same goes for the reader who is knowledgeable on the subject. Knowing all of the outcomes of the various trials and elections does not take anything away from the story. Harris’ writing style simply captivates you and you continually find yourself reading ‘just one more page.’
The book is split into three sections. The first section is the trial of Verres (the corrupt governor of Sicily), which was superbly done. The courtroom scenes are enough to entice the history lover and the legal buff alike. Cicero was a master when it came to speaking in the courtroom. It was during this trial when he locked horns with Rome’s leading lawyer, Quintus Hortensius, along with a great weight of Rome‘s leading aristocrats. This battle of the legal titans was a spectacle then, and is still a spectacle now. Mid-way through the book (second section), Cicero is caught up in a power play between the two giants at the time, Crassus and Pompey, each trying to lure him to their respective camps, using anything from promises of support to money. The third section is dedicated to Cicero’s election to the Consulship, Rome’s highest and most prestigious office, the Pinnacle of Roman achievement. I might also add this is the first installment of three books, which is why it ends where it does.
Overall, I am pleased to say this ranks among my list of some of the best works of historical fiction. Imperium was a pleasure to read. Harris successfully wedded great fiction and accurate history. Quite frankly, it can’t get any better than that. I give this novel my highest rating.
5 out of 5.