Den of Wolves
The modern historical novel tends to stay within the bounds of known facts, confining its invention to the areas where history remains silent. No such limitation restrains Australian novelist Luke Devenish, who rearranges family history and known facts to achieve his purpose, which seems to be to blacken the character of the women of Roman history. In his Claudius novels, Robert Graves accuses Augustus’s spouse of countless murders of family members and others who happened to be in the way. Her infamous reputation in popular culture can be seen in the decision of the writers of The Sopranos to use her name for the malevolent mob widow who authorizes the whacking of her own son. Most modern historians dismiss the theory of a murderous Livia, but Devenish goes Graves one better and assigns countless new evil acts to Augustus’s wife in her effort to bring about the prophecy that she will be the ancestor of four kings.
The prologue by a slave narrator is dated 65 A.D., but the action begins in 44 B.C. The book is identified as Book One in the Empress of Rome series. If you read historical fiction to learn more about the past, this book will only confuse and misinform you. If you don’t care about the history, it is an exciting and well-constructed melodrama. If you happen to be a pedant who enjoys spotting historical inaccuracies in a “What’s Wrong with this Picture” fashion, this might be the book for you. In spite of myself, I am looking forward to Nest of Vipers, the next installment in the series, a sample of which is included in this edition. Conditionally recommended.