Monday 6 January 2020

A Discovering Diamonds Review of Antonius Son of Rome by Brook Allen

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"Lots of historical detail here, but it is a work of fiction. Recommended for those who enjoy ancient Rome."

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1st century B.C.
Rome and Judea

Marcus Antonius (better known as Mark Anthony) is the son of Antonius Creticus, who was given a mandate to clear the Mediterranean of pirates. Not only did he fail but he plundered the provinces he was meant to protect and made an alliance with the pirates to conquer Crete. Further disgrace falls on the family when Marcus’s beloved step-father is involved in the Catalina conspiracy and executed. Marcus is a boy of eleven years when he learns of his father’s disgrace and vows to restore the family honour by making a name for himself as a soldier. He is aided by a cousin, no less than Julius Caesar, who undertakes to help him with his military training.

As happens often today, so then. He falls in with a bad crowd and embraces vice – drinking, gambling and consorting with prostitutes. As a result he gets heavily into debt and into the clutches of a particularly nasty moneylender whom he can’t hope to repay. A thug hired by the moneylender murders Marcus’s young and pregnant wife and Marcus plunges into guilt-ridden grief.

At first, I didn’t find the character of Marcus particularly engaging. His response to the crises of loss is dissipation – the very thing that caused the death of his wife. What started as adolescent curiosity becomes an anodyne to which he resorts in times of trauma. Only when he is given a commission in the army of Aulus Gabinius, who is off to govern Syria, does he emerge as someone we might admire and come to like.

Since little is known of Marcus’s life before he meets Cleopatra, this book shines a light on the years that shape the man he is to become: loyal and brave, if impulsive. Lots of historical detail here, but it is a work of fiction, and I have to admit that the fictional murder of a member of the august Antonii clan by a moneylender just didn’t work for me. However, the story is well-told – a good foundation for the author to build on in future books.

Recommended for those who enjoy reading about ancient Rome, particularly the final years of the Republic.

© Susan Appleyard
e-version reviewed

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