Review: Rome’s Executioner

Rome's Executioner
Rome’s Executioner by Robert Fabbri
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

There’s action a-plenty in Rome’s Executioner (Vespasian II), on and off the pitch. Ranging from the outskirts of the Roman empire in Dacia in AD 30, to the very centre of power and those who hold it or want it, in the eternal city itself. From full-on combat at the point of a sword to daggers in the back in the dark of Roman side-streets and back alleys. All in all, just what you want to find in a book set in Roman times. However (the good sort) what elevates this one above – the most of – its competition, is the sparkle, invention and wit Robert Fabbri imbues his characters and their stories with. It manages to hold my interest and rapt attention, even in the (totally necessary) political skullduggery set-pieces back in Rome. No mean achievement that. Robert Fabbri really does seem to hit the right balance between intrigue, politicking and action in this series and Vespasian himself, is developing into a very interesting character indeed.

Along with the battles and brawls, intrigue and dirty-dickery, there are also interesting comments on the state of Roman ‘civilisation’ and the intricacy of its politics woven subtly all the way through. As well as thoughts on those pre-Christian festivals that just so happened to take place at the end of a year, involve the giving of gifts and celebrating the birth of a god…To compare it with another long-running Roman series, the ‘Empire’ books of Anthony Riches (of which I’ve just passed #7), I’d have to say it comes out easily on top. Better written and plotted, even after only having read two of them, that’s clear (though to be fair The Emperor’s Knives does show a lot more ambition on Riches’ side than has previously been evident). However, some things are clearly taken as read, by writers of books set in the Roman period – Greeks are obviously all homosexual. Here, as a character called Magnus says, “And it’ll be sometime before he can chew on a decent Roman sausage again; being Greek, he’s partial to sausage, if you take my meaning?” Seems Robert Fabbri’s Romans share much the same opinions of Greeks as Anthony Riches’ boys over in Britannia.

And, though in a different way to the Empire series, you’re going to need a strong stomach while reading Rome’s Executioner. There, it’s mostly about what happens on the battlefield, but Rome’s Executioner is warts and all Roman depravity. Prepare to have your mind – and stomach – tied up in knots trying to follow all the ins and outs of who is trying to stab who in the back trying to out – or second – guess an aged Emperor who has clearly gone stark staring, raving, yip-yip, barking at the moon mad and can – and does – do whatever his skittish mind takes a fancy to. As you would.

As with a lot of the series these days (does no one ever write one-offs any more?), I find myself asking: “do I need to have read #1, Steve?” Here, I’d say maybe not really, but it will help increase the enjoyment. All I thought was that the relationship between Vespasian and his brother Sabinus, does perhaps need a glance at #1, otherwise, you can certainly begin here, no problem.

So, and despite a(n interesting) new twist on the eyebrow raising device, so beloved of Roman period writers, here we have Secundus raising a ‘monobrow,’ I really enjoyed the book and rate it very highly indeed. In my view, the Vespasian series along with Douglas Jackson’s …of Rome series are the best of the many Roman series I’ve read. Vespasian II is up on the podium of the top three Roman novels I’ve read so far. In fact, it will have to be the best, most convincing, most captivating Roman-period book I’ve read since The Lion and the Lamb. I’ll admit, I actually found myself holding my breath at one point. (P117) and I’ll go along with another of the book’s characters’ comments that “This is more fun than arse-licking back in Rome…” Then, as now, I guess. Go away and start this series now, if you haven’t already, I’m sure you’ll agree.

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6 thoughts on “Review: Rome’s Executioner

  1. I just picked this up in a local charity shop. Glad to hear it’s good! I’m surprised there was no Simon Scarrow reference though – he’s very popular at the minute, and did set his roman series around Vespasian.

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    1. I must admit that I haven’t yet read anything by Simon Scarrow, so I can’t reference him in relation to the Roman-themed books I have. It is mainly because i have so many other books/series set in Roman times, that I don’t really want to start buying another series just now. I’m on with (as in, I have got all the books in the series, ready to read) Robert Fabbri’s Vespasian, Harry Sidebottom’s ‘Warrior of Rome’ and the new ‘Iron & Rust’, Douglas Jackson’s ‘Hero of Rome’ series, I’m up to date with Anthony Riches’ ‘Empire,’ and, of course, there’s Ben Kane’s ‘Hannibal.’ I also have a couple of one-off Roman books waiting, one of which is ‘Eagle In The Snow,’ by Wallace Bream. So, I’m thinking, that’ll do me for Rome and Rome-related books just now. Especially as i do like reading other periods as well.
      So, it’s only for what I see as practical reasons, that i haven’t started with Simon Scarrow.
      Good to see you also find bargains in Charity shops. The RNLI shop in Porthcawl, where ny parents live, has been a gold mine down the years.
      I hope you like Vespasian. Remember, it’s only my opinion and though unlikely, I could be wrong 😉

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      1. There are plenty of Roman ones out there tbf – I’ve read my fair share and there’s plenty more outside of your list: Conn Iggulden, Robert Harris, Stephen Baxter, Colleen McCullough … It would be hard work to cover them all.

        I like your website – I hope to try a few more recommendations for new books off it!

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      2. That’s good of you to say, thank you.
        I know I’m only scratching the surface, Rome-wise. But one other thing does occur to me sometimes – can I tell the difference between them all? Most of the ones I have read, have, by accident rather than design, been set in different periods within the Roman timescale. I just worry that I might, for example, be reading a Ben Kane, but be thinking about a Robert Fabbri when I’m done. That’s partly why, thanks to being so avaricious/stupid and so having a huge ‘to be read’ pile, I like to shift genres as much as I can, when I’m done. The question I always then ask, if I’m on number two, three, or so on, with a series, is: can I remember what happened before? If I can, I then think, did I need to have read the previous ones in the series, to get the best out of this? If it’s yes and yes, then it’s done its job. Vespasian, I thought, worked well in that way. Though I can fully understand that an author would of course want you to feel you had to go get all the others! Is why if I read a series, I start at the beginning.
        I can’t, I’m afraid, recommend the Anthony Riches books, past the first two or three. They worked well, but after that, his writing began to grate and I found myself concentrating more on his shortcomings and less on the story. Hence the fixation (he has and) I had on the raising of eyebrows. Once noticed, can’t be un-seen. I have ‘read’ them on Audible and even the person reading the book (Saul Reichman) can be heard balking at the repeated eyebrows. I took it up with another blogger who’d given it a glowing review, but she said it hadn’t got in the way. As I know she gets most of her books as advance copies directly from the publisher, and as a consequence doesn’t ever seem to have read a bad book…I called her ‘scared.’ She hasn’t posted that comment, I don’t think.
        Danish writers don’t generally seem to do historical fiction, though I have read Erik den Røde, by Preben Mørkbak, which is a trilogy about Erik the Red, Greenland, America, etc. The Danish book I have ready, is ‘Kød og Blod’ (‘flesh and blood’) by Elsebeth Egholm, but that’s more because she was doing a signing down in town, lives out near where we used to live and the books are set here, in Aarhus 😉
        I have a book by Robert Harris a-waitin’ called ‘An Officer and a Spy.’ Not a Roman one, but set in France at the end of the C19th. I also thought ‘Fatherland’ was quite superb. My aim at the moment, is to cut down on the buying of the new books and read up all the ones I have already. Though, looking at my Goodreads Challenge to read 40 a year (which I’m well on with), it’ll be this time next year, at least, before I’m done. Maybe then I’ll get onto other series, including some of the ones you mention.

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  2. Just as a warning – from those other Rome books I mentioned, I wasn’t a fan of Conn Iggulden. It works quite well as a heroic fantasy, but deviates absurdly from actual history. You have to be willing to let go and accept Cato as corrupt, Caesar defeating Catiline, Caesar and Brutus having grown up like brothers (and so on). It’s like a Hollywood movie version of history.

    Robert Harris’ Cicero series is superb though. I still need to read ‘An Officer and a Spy’.

    I haven’t read any Danish historical fiction. Tim Severin’s Viking series may have passed through it but that’s as close as I got. (I thought it was enjoyable, but maybe a little too led by the history he wanted to cover so that the characters themselves could be a little flat in places).

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    1. Well, I agree with the Tim Severin thought. It did seem like he wanted to cover just about everything in/from Viking history as though it had all happened to one character. It was enjoyable, it did, as you suggest with Conn Iggulden, mean leaving your believability at the door, but the final parts of the third book, were outstanding, even moving. But hasn’t convinced me to go find the Anglo Saxon one he seems to have done.
      I got the Robert Harris one, last time I was back in the UK. Part of a ‘2 for £7.00’ offer in Tesco’s. I really thought ‘Fatherland’ was superb, and I could see that it had quite probably inspired a few other authors/books I’ve enjoyed – Philip Kerr, David Downing, that kind of thing.
      Danes like their crime novels. We’re falling over them here, along with all the Swedish and Norwegian authors offerings. Historical novel-wise, it’s thinner pickings.

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