Captain of Rome
The Roman Republic was just beginning naval warfare during what has come to be known as the First Punic War. It had experienced some success with the corvus, a plank that enabled them to move soldiers onto the enemy ship, thus creating land warfare at sea. The title character Atticus is a Greek in service to Rome, as his name suggests. He is readily accepted by his Roman colleagues until he begins a romance with one of their sisters. The main conflict is between Atticus and Varro, a Roman senator’s son promoted beyond his competence through political connections and fearful of having his cowardice exposed. His political sponsor is Scipio Asina, not to be confused with the heroic Scipiones of future generations. Roman politics are seen in simplistic terms of patricians jealous of their status set against rising new men. Carthaginian internal conflicts concern the forces back home opposing Hamilcar Barça, thrust back twenty years in history “for narrative purposes.”
The liberties taken with history could be forgiven in a book with a more original style. One politician is drawn to another “like a moth to a flame.” Roman merchantmen who fight “like men possessed” are circled by pirates “like a pack of baying wolves.” Two spying slaves (not one, but two) are described as unique, but they disappear before we can find out what made either of them unique. The characters are flat without being memorable, and the plot is predictable without being satisfying. Not recommended.