Blog Tour/Book Review: The Senator’s Assignment by Joan E. Histon

Senator's Assignment BT Poster

I’m delighted to be hosting today’s stop on the blog tour for The Senator’s Asssignment, the debut novel by Joan E. Histon.  My thanks to Anne at Random Things Tours for inviting me to take part in the tour.  If you missed yesterday’s stop on the tour, you can catch up with the review of The Senator’s Asssignment by Cheryl at Cheryl M-M’s Book Blog here.

The Senator's AssignmentAbout the Book

Being trusted by a Caesar makes him an enemy of the Roman who crucified Jesus Christ, and puts him under threat from Rome itself…

Rome 30 AD. – A Senator is plunged into the dark heart of the Roman Empire, sent to investigate the corrupt practices of Pontius Pilate in Jerusalem by Caesar Tiberius. In this tense historical thriller can Senator Vivius Marcianus outmanoeuvre charges of treason, devastating secrets resurfaced from his own troubled past, and the political snake pit of Rome to save himself and the woman he loves?

Format: Paperback, ebook (272 pp.)    Publisher: Top Hat Books
Published: 26th October 2018        Genre: Historical Fiction

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My Review

If you know anything about this turbulent period of Roman history then the names Pontius Pilate, Sejanus and Emperor Tiberius will give you a clue that anyone getting involved with them is probably entering dangerous waters (and I don’t mean the ones across to the Isle of Capri).  So it turns out for Senator Vivius Marcianus – and those close to him – when he’s tasked with an assignment notable for the vagueness of its instructions and the fact it will take him to a hotbed of civil and political unrest – Roman occupied Jerusalem.

The author does a great job of conjuring up the sights, sounds and smells of Jerusalem’s teeming streets and market places.  Our hero, Vivius, is plunged into a world awash with personal and political rivalries, intrigue, corruption, the casual use of violence and cruel punishments.  Furthermore, the sectarian infighting is not confined to the upper reaches of the Roman Empire but is evident in Jerusalem as well with religious sects such as the Zealots and the Nazarenes pursuing competing strategies.  (Those familiar with the film ‘The Life of Brian’ may find their thoughts straying to the scenes featuring the People’s Front of Judea and the Judean People’s Front.)

Meanwhile back in Rome, Vivius’s bride-to-be, Aurelia, finds herself drawn into similarly dangerous political intrigues and shows herself to be a suitably courageous and intrepid partner.

As Vivius attempts to carry out his assignment, he encounters threats, stonewalling and distraction techniques of a more subtle nature designed to undermine his investigation.  However, on the principle that ‘my enemy’s enemy is my friend’, Vivius finds unlikely allies as he seeks to reveal the truth and bring the guilty parties to justice.   I was definitely rooting for him and his companions by this point.  What Vivius uncovers will have repercussions at the highest level of the Roman Empire.

The Senator’s Assignment is a really enjoyable historical mystery set in a period of Roman history rife with political intrigue that makes the perfect backdrop for its clever, well-constructed plot.

I received an advance review copy courtesy of publishers, Top Hat Books, and Random Things Tours.

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In three words: Suspenseful, entertaining, mystery

Try something similar…Caligula by Simon Turney (read my review here)

Joan E Histon Author PicAbout the Author

Joan Histon has a background as a professional counsellor. She began her writing career as a ghost writer when two clients expressed an interest in telling their own dramatic stories. After the publication of Thy Will be Done… Eventually! and Tears in the Dark, she was commissioned to write the true story of ‘The Shop on Pilgrim Street’. Having also published short stories in several national magazines, The Senator’s Assignment is Joan’s debut novel.

As well as writing, Joan is a Methodist local preacher, a gifted story-teller, spiritual director, mother and a reluctant gardener. She lives in Hexham, Northumberland with her husband, Colin.

Connect with Joan

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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*  ǀ  ǀ (Supporting local bookshops)
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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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In three words: Compelling, powerful, immersive

Try something similar…I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith

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.

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