Welcome to today’s stop on the blog tour for Gods of Rome by Gordon Doherty and Simon Turney, the third and final instalment in the Rise of Emperors series. My thanks to Jade and Andrew at Head of Zeus for inviting me to take part in the tour and for my review copy.
About the Book
For one to rule, the other must die.
312 AD is a year of horrific and brutal warfare. Constantine’s northern army is a small force, plagued by religious rivalries, but seemingly unstoppable as they invade Maxentius’ Italian heartlands. These relentless clashes, incidents of treachery and twists of fortune see Maxentius’ armies driven back to Rome.
Constantine has his prize in sight, yet his army is diminished and on the verge of revolt. Maxentius meanwhile works to calm a restive and dissenting Roman populace. When the two forces clash in the Battle of the Milvian Bridge, there are factors at work beyond their control and soon they are left with carnage.
There is only one way Constantine and Maxentius’ rivalry will end. With one on a bloodied sword and the other the sole ruler of Rome . . .
Format: Hardcover (464 pages) Publisher: Aries
Publication date: 11th November 2021 Genre: Historical Fiction
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Gods of Rome is the final instalment in the trilogy that began with Sons of Rome and continued with Masters of Rome (which I have yet to read). Gods of Rome represents the culmination of the story of the relentless battle between Constantine and Maxentius to become Emperor of Rome. For those who have not read the earlier books, Gods of Rome can certainly be read as a standalone as there are brief references to previous events dotted throughout the book. However, the events in Gods of Rome take place over a much shorter time period than the previous two so to gain a full sense of how two former friends were transformed into implacable enemies, I’d recommend reading the series from the beginning.
As in the previous two books, the chapters alternate between the first person points of view of Constantine and Maxentius, providing an intimate insight into each man’s character. At one particular point, just before the momentous Battle of the Milvian Bridge, the reader witnesses the same scene from each man’s point of view, which I thought was a brilliant concept.
So what do we learn about the two men? Constantine is driven, battle-hardened and a skilled tactician. However, he is hampered by religious differences within his army which at times threaten to reduce it to a squabbling rabble rather than a united fighting force. It’s not until late in the day that he finds a way to bring the different factions together under a single credo, one which proves decisive.
Maxentius is a planner and more inclined to adopt a defensive strategy. Of the two, he is the one who finds it more difficult to come to terms with the fact his former friend is now his foe. Having said that, both have justifiable reason to hate each other for past actions. One gets a sense of two men fighting a very personal battle but one which has consequences for many hundreds of thousands of others.
Talking of battles, the battle scenes in the book are brilliantly described in all their visceral, chaotic and gory detail, demonstrating not only the authors’ ability to write thrilling and immersive scenes but also their in-depth knowledge of Roman weaponry, military structures and strategy. For example, this as Constantine’s forces attack the city of Verona held by Maxentius. ‘A single sound composed of a thousand threads at any one time, all of them screams or thuds or metallic rasps, whistles, shouted orders, death rattles, cracking stone, surgeons’ saws, fiery explosions, neighing, struggling. Death, death, death.’ Or this, as Constantine leads the attack at the climactic Battle of the Milvian Bridge. ‘Chaos reigned: whinnying, screaming, weapons whacking into flesh, bursting heads and limbs spinning free of bodies, horses rolling, hooves flailing, enemy riders peeling from the saddle, hacked and cleaved from shoulder to gut.’
Obviously the book is dominated by the figures of Constantine and Maxentius, but I found their wives – Fausta and Valeria – equally fascinating. Both are the objects of strategic marriages which in fact have divided more than they have united the rival families. Valeria acts as a confidante to Maxentius, is never afraid to voice her opinion and exercises power in her own subtle way. Indeed, had she been born male, I suspect she would have made a formidable adversary. Because of past events, Fausta maintains a relentlessly cold attitude towards Constantine. However, she is also the person who probably understands him best. ‘I know what you are, Constantine. A creature bred in battle, reared on a diet of blood.’ Fausta is a fierce opponent of the war between the two men, not only because Maxentius is her brother and a victory by Constantine would result in his death, but also because she is appalled at the waste of human life – on all sides – that their conflict involves.
In their historical note at the end of the book, the authors explain where fact meets fiction and, where there is either a lack of contemporary sources or a conflict between different sources, the basis for their speculations. There’s also a useful glossary for those who can’t tell their spatha from their spiculum.
Although students of history will be aware how the conflict between Constantine and Maxentius ends, it takes nothing away from the tension of the final chapters. Gods of Rome is a terrific end to an enthralling series. If you have an interest in Roman history, military history or just like your historical fiction to be action-packed, this is the book (and series) for you.
In three words: Action-packed, gripping, authentic
About the Authors
Simon Turney is the author of the Marius’ Mules and Praetorian series, as well as The Damned Emperor series for Orion and Tales of the Empire series for Canelo. He is based in Yorkshire.
Gordon Doherty is the author of the Legionary and Strategos series, and wrote the Assassin’s Creed tie-in novel Odyssey. He is based in Scotland.