Of Merchants and Heroes
Set around 200 BC in Rome and Greece, Paul Waters’ first novel is a well-written and intelligent tale. Marcus, aged just fourteen, witnesses the murder of his father by pirates and makes a vow with Mars to exact vengeance on the leader of the group. Despite his relative youth, this inner determination and direction spurs Marcus to forge a career as a military leader and diplomat. He plays a prominent and heroic role in Rome’s struggle against Philip of Macedon (the II not the more famous V), who indirectly threatened Rome through his occupation of various Greek city-states. But this book is much more than a narrative of political-military events. Marcus’s love for the beautiful Greek athlete and soldier, Menexenos – together with loyalty, bravery and conviction to do that which is right, and the myopia, jealousies and brutal violence of the human experience – helps forge him into a decent but still vulnerable human being.
I am not an expert in this period of classical history and so cannot comment on the historical accuracy, or otherwise, of the novel. Yet Paul Waters has achieved that which is very difficult: creating a feeling of authenticity in that Marcus and his fellow characters are not just 21st century figures transported back in time, but live in a culture, milieu and essence that is genuine and fundamentally different from ours. This is an admirable read.