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Allan Massie (1938 - )

Sceptre, 1997


Antony still looks like a caged lion, Critias thought, as his master paced the room, dictating his memoirs. Artful Critias finds his master's asides more interesting than his memoirs and duly records them, too, as well as his own. There is a delightful touch of irony in Allan Massie's work which lightens the truths and brutalities of history while taking nothing of nobility or treachery from his characters. What a devil's dance it was after Caesar's death! Plotting, scheming, wondering whom to trust; some changing sides, others trying to run with both hare and hounds. Antony quickly secured money, troops and respectability by persuading Balbus, a banker, Hirtius, a next year's consul and Lepidus, aristocratic Master of the Horse, to join him. Good generalship, ambition and an astute mind did much for Antony, but what armour does any man have against lies, treachery, hatred - and his own foolishness? He most deceived himself at critical moments. Ever-forgiving, ever-trusting, he brought about his own ruin. Gullible? Only where the deceitful and ambitious young Octavian was concerned. Generous, yes, but had he heeded the advice of his perceptive wife, all would have been well. Unpleasant Fulvia may have been; blind she was not. Deserted at the end, even by Cleopatra, he was finished: a fascinating, but sad story. Only Antony could have rewritten it. This gripping character study makes history the perfect subject for a novel. It lives. The technique of dictated memoirs punctuated by Critias' witty comments adds a new dimension, revealing the youthful Antony, peccadilloes and all. Octavian, 'heir' to Caesar, looms dangerously clever. Cicero of the barbed tongue recklessly forges his own doom. The author weaves an engrossing tapestry of friendship, betrayal and bloodshed stretching, it seems, to the four corners of the world. And Cleopatra - who, what, was she really? If Allan Massie, when writing, experiences half the pleasure his readers enjoy, he must be a happy man. But next time, please, no "kid" or "hunky-dory". The Romans would have had their own colloquialisms - need they borrow ours? This, apart from brevity, is the only flaw. - Kay Sylvester From The Historical Novel Review (December 1998), published by the Historical Novel Society.

- Kay Sylvester, 12/15/2005

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