Book Review: Caligula (The Damned Emperors #1) by Simon Turney

CaligulaAbout the Book

Caligula: loving brother, reluctant ruler and tortured soul.

The five children of Germanicus are cursed from birth. Father: believed poisoned by the Emperor Tiberius over the imperial succession. Mother and two brothers arrested and starved to death by Tiberius. One sister married off to an abusive husband. Only two are left: Caligula, in line for the imperial throne, and his youngest sister, Livilla, who tells us this story.

The ascent of their family into the imperial dynasty forces Caligula to change from the fun-loving boy Livilla knew into a shrewd, wary and calculating young man. Tiberius’s sudden death allows Caligula to manhandle his way to power. With the bloodthirsty tyrant dead, it should be a golden age in Rome and, for a while, it is. But Caligula suffers emotional blow after emotional blow as political allies, friends, and finally family betray him and attempt to overthrow him, by poison, by the knife, by any means possible.

Little by little, Caligula becomes a bitter, resentful and vengeful Emperor, every shred of the boy he used to be eroded. As Caligula loses touch with reality, there is only one thing to be done before Rome is changed irrevocably. . .

Format: ebook, hardcover (480 pp.)     Publisher: Orion Publishing Group
Published: 8th March 2018                      Genre: Historical Fiction

Pre-order/Purchase Links*
Amazon.co.uk  ǀ  Amazon.com  ǀ Hive.co.uk (Supporting local bookshops)
*links provided for convenience, not as part of any affiliate programme

 Find Caligula on Goodreads


My Review

Our narrator is Livilla, sister of Caligula, meaning the reader gets an insider’s perspective on Caligula as brother, son, confidante, protector but also as cruel and tyrannical ruler.  At times, it did seem a little convenient that Livilla managed to be in the right place at the right time to overhear important conversations but, on the other hand, it’s perhaps reasonable that her position in the imperial family would have given her freedoms not available to other women.

What the author does superbly well is bring to life the atmosphere of perpetual suspicion within the imperial household, the need to be continually on your guard in case a casual glance, a gesture or a misplaced word should provide an opportunity for an accusation of disloyalty or treason.    It’s a world where violent, cruel and frequently gruesome death is a daily occurrence and an ever-present possibility.  Where you learn not to react to death being meted out on a whim in front of you because, if you do, you might just be next.

At one point, Livilla asks her brother, “When did we turn into the very people we used to fear?”  The book makes a persuasive case for how a loving brother and intelligent young man might be transformed by repeated betrayals, disappointments and bereavements into a brute.  And how, after years of the self-imposed restraint necessary to navigate the murky waters of Imperial Roman politics, the dam might eventually burst and paranoia take the place of sensible mistrust of others’ motives.  Livilla nails it when she says, ‘You see, he had spent eight years wearing a mask of silent, stoic humility in order to survive in a world of wicked and dangerous masters.’

I certainly enjoyed being asked to consider a different view of Caligula from that in other books I’ve read, such as Robert Graves’ I, Claudius.  The book eschews some of the more lurid myths commonly associated with Caligula and the author writes interestingly about this in his Historical Note.

I found the book a thrilling, compelling read and I will definitely look out for future books in the series.  The author has written several other series set in ancient Rome under the name S J A Turney and I’ve added a number of these to my bookish wish-list. Caligula is highly recommended for historical fiction fans who enjoy the intrigue and scandal of Roman history – and have no fear of open windows.

I received an advance reader copy courtesy of NetGalley and publishers Orion Publishing in return for an honest and unbiased review.

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Simon TurneyAbout the Author

Simon lives with his wife and children and a menagerie of animals in rural North Yorkshire, where he sits in an office, wired on coffee and digestive biscuits, and attempts to spin engrossing tales out of strands of imagination while his children drive toys across his desk and two dogs howl as they try to share a brain cell.  A born and bred Yorkshireman with a love of country, history and architecture, Simon spends most of his rare free time travelling around ancient sites, writing, researching the ancient world and reading voraciously.

Following an arcane and eclectic career path that wound through everything from sheep to Microsoft networks and from paint to car sales, Simon wrote Marius’ Mules and, with help and support, made a success of it. Now, with in excess of 20 novels under his belt, Simon writes full time and is represented by MMB Creative literary agents.

Simon writes Roman military novels in the form of the bestselling Marius’ Mules series based on Julius Caesar’s campaigns, Roman thrillers in the Praetorian series, set during the troubled reign of Commodus, medieval adventures in the Ottoman Cycle, following a young Greek thief around the 15th century world, and a series of Historical Fantasy novels with a Roman flavour, called the Tales of the Empire.

Caligula is published under the pen name Simon Turney.

Connect with Simon

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WWW Wednesdays – 28th February ’18

WWWWednesdays

Hosted by Taking on a World of Words, this meme is all about the three Ws:

  • What are you currently reading?
  • What did you recently finish reading?
  • What do you think you’ll read next?

Why not join in too?  Leave a comment with your link at Taking on a World of Words and then go blog hopping!


Currently reading

Memento MoriMemento Mori by Muriel Spark (paperback, giveaway prize)

n late 1950s London, something uncanny besets a group of elderly friends: an insinuating voice on the telephone informs each, “Remember you must die.” Their geriatric feathers are soon thoroughly ruffled by these seemingly supernatural phone calls, and in the resulting flurry many old secrets are dusted off. Beneath the once decorous surface of their lives, unsavouries like blackmail and adultery are now to be glimpsed. As spooky as it is witty, poignant and wickedly hilarious, Memento Mori may ostensibly concern death, but it is a book which leaves one relishing life all the more.

KILLED COVER AW 2.inddKilled (Henning Juul #5) by Thomas Enger (ebook, review copy courtesy of Orenda Books)

Henning Juul sits in a boat on a dark lake. A man with a gun sits opposite him. At the man’s feet is a body that will be soon be dumped into the water. Henning knows that the same fate awaits him. And he knows that it’s his own fault. Who started the fire that killed Henning’s young son? How is his sister, Trine, involved? Most importantly, who can be trusted? Packed with tension and unexpected twists, Killed is the long-waited finale of the internationally renowned series featuring conflicted, disillusioned but always dogged crime reporter Henning Juul, and one of the most chilling, dark and moving crime thrillers you may ever read.


Recently finished (click on title for review)

TheFragileThreadofHopeThe Fragile Thread of Hope by Pankaj Giri (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

In the autumn of 2012, destiny wreaks havoc on two unsuspecting people – Soham and Fiona.

Although his devastating past involving his brother still haunted him, Soham had established a promising career for himself in Bangalore.  After a difficult childhood, Fiona’s fortunes had finally taken a turn for the better. She had married her beloved, and her life was as perfect as she had ever imagined it to be.  But when tragedy strikes them yet again, their fundamentally fragile lives threaten to fall apart.

Can Fiona and Soham overcome their grief? Will the overwhelming pain destroy their lives?

TheRainNeverCameThe Rain Never Came by Lachlan Walter (ebook, review copy courtesy of the author)

In a thirsty, drought-stricken Australia, the country is well and truly sunburnt. As the Eastern states are evacuated to more appealing climates, a stubborn few resist the forced removal. They hide out in small country towns – where no one would ever bother looking.

Bill Cook and Tobe Cousins are united in their disregard of the law. Aussie larrikins, they pass their hot, monotonous existence drinking at the barely standing pub. When strange lights appear across the Western sky, it seems that those embittered by the drought are seeking revenge. And Bill and Tobe are in their path. In the heat of the moment secrets will be revealed, and survival can’t be guaranteed.

John MacnabJohn Macnab by John Buchan (hardcover)

Three high-flying men – a barrister, a cabinet minister and a banker – are suffering from boredom. They concoct a plan to cure it.

They inform three Scottish estates that they will poach from each two stags and a salmon in a given time. They sign collectively as ‘John Macnab’ and await the responses.

 

The Secret Life of Mrs LondonThe Secret Life of Mrs London by Rebecca Rosenberg (ebook, review copy courtesy of Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours)

San Francisco, 1915. As America teeters on the brink of world war, Charmian and her husband, famed novelist Jack London, wrestle with genius and desire, politics and marital competitiveness. Charmian longs to be viewed as an equal partner who put her own career on hold to support her husband, but Jack doesn’t see it that way…until Charmian is pulled from the audience during a magic show by escape artist Harry Houdini, a man enmeshed in his own complicated marriage. Suddenly, charmed by the attention Houdini pays her and entranced by his sexual magnetism, Charmian’s eyes open to a world of possibilities that could be her escape.

As Charmian grapples with her urge to explore the forbidden, Jack’s increasingly reckless behaviour threatens her dedication. Now torn between two of history’s most mysterious and charismatic figures, she must find the courage to forge her own path, even as she fears the loss of everything she holds dear. (Review to follow 1st March)

All the Beautiful GirlsAll the Beautiful Girls by Elizabeth J. Church (eARC, NetGalley)

A powerful novel about a gutsy showgirl who tries to conquer her past amongst the glamour of 1960s Las Vegas–and finds unexpected fortune, friendship, and love.

It was unimaginable. When she was eight years old, Lily Decker somehow survived the auto accident that killed her parents and sister, but neither her emotionally distant aunt nor her all-too-attentive uncle could ease her grief. Dancing proves to be Lily’s only solace, and eventually, she receives a “scholarship” to a local dance academy–courtesy of a mysterious benefactor.

Grown and ready to leave home for good, Lily changes her name to Ruby Wilde and heads to Las Vegas to be a troupe dancer, but her sensual beauty and voluptuous figure land her work instead as a showgirl performing everywhere from Les Folies Bergere at the Tropicana to the Stardust’s Lido de Paris. Wearing costumes dripping with feathers and rhinestones, five-inch heels, and sky-high headdresses, Ruby may have all the looks of a Sin City success story, but she still must learn to navigate the world of men–and figure out what real love looks like. (Review to follow 5th March)


What Cathy (will) Read Next

Waking IsabellaWaking Isabella by Melissa Muldoon (ebook, review copy courtesy of Italy Book Tours)

Set in Arezzo, a small Tuscan town, the plot unfolds against the backdrop of the city’s antique trade and the fanfare and pageantry of its medieval jousting festival. While filming a documentary about Isabella de’ Medici – the Renaissance princess who was murdered by her husband – Nora, an assistant researcher, begins to connect with the lives of two remarkable women from the past. Unravelling the stories of Isabella, the daughter of a fifteenth-century Tuscan duke, and Margherita, a young girl trying to survive the war in Nazi-occupied Italy, Nora begins to question the choices that have shaped her own life up to this point. As she does, hidden beauty is awakened deep inside of her, and she discovers the keys to her creativity and happiness. It is a story of love and deceit, forgeries and masterpieces—all held together by the allure and intrigue of a beautiful Tuscan ghost.

TheThingsWeLearnWhenWereDeadThe Things We Learn When We’re Dead by Charlie Laidlaw (paperback, review copy courtesy of the author)

With elements of The Wizard of Oz, The Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy and The Lovely Bones, The Things We Learn When We’re Dead shows how small decisions can have profound and unintended consequences, and how sometimes we can get a second chance.

On the way home from a dinner party, Lorna Love steps into the path of an oncoming car. When she wakes up she is in what appears to be a hospital – but a hospital in which her nurse looks like a young Sean Connery, she is served wine for supper, and everyone avoids her questions. It soon transpires that she is in Heaven, or on HVN. Because HVN is a lost, dysfunctional spaceship, and God the aging hippy captain. She seems to be there by accident… Or does God have a higher purpose after all?  At first Lorna can remember nothing. As her memories return – some good, some bad – she realises that she has decision to make and that maybe she needs to find a way home.