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Ron Burns

Roman Shadows
St. Martin's, 1992


Gaius Livinius Severus is a young, handsome, somewhat naive Roman aristocrat who lives at the very end of the Republic and beginning of the Empire. These are, obviously, troubled times; and he finds himself caught up in the middle of one of those Roman conspiracies that the ancients were so fond of. Livinius is a student of Cicero (whom he calls "Dear Master") at a time when the great orator's star is on the downward turn. One day his teacher asks him to keep an eye on a young politician named Gaius Scribonius Curio (if you recognize the name, you probably already know the plot); so Livinius falls in with this new friend, who appears to be a staunch supporter of the Republic. Our like-minded hero becomes his aide, helping Curio to write speeches; and further, ropes in three of his cousins to the same task. However, a string of corpses begins to turn up, all killed in the same way. Livinius pays little attention, until his favorite cousin Lucius Flavius is also murdered in this manner. Then he loses his naiveté and becomes determined to avenge his cousin's death, despite numerous warnings to desist from this dangerous task. The plot is essentially authentic and works well in its place; although, as I say, students of Roman history will already know the outcome. However, I found that the milieu and characters did not really come to life. The entire character of each person could be reduced to one sentence (as the author actually does for us in an afterward); and they all smell of the history book. Some other series set in this time period are marvels of description, making it seem almost possible to see and smell and know intimately all the nooks and crannies of Rome; this one is more like a stage set, with a few pillars and chunks of marble meant to stand in for an entire civilization. The author seems forever aware that this is Important History he is dealing with; and thus never achieves any humor or irreverant attitude toward the Old Togas. Reviewed by Joyce Park for Troutworks.

- Joyce Park, 11/23/2005

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