This is the second book in the Four Emperors series. Book One – Palatine – ended with Nero’s demise and was written not from the point of view of the great and mighty, but from that of the lowly slaves and freedmen who kept things going. This book has almost the same cast of characters, who keep the Empire functional through the interregnum and Galba’s astonishingly swift reign during AD 68 – it took him only three months to be decapitated in the forum!
There’s a complex weave of sub-plots, but the one that most appealed to me took small, hard-working, shy Tiberius Claudius Philo from terrorised ex-slave, locked in an abusive relationship with the slave overseer, to someone very much in love with his chosen lady. Along the way, he manages to run the Emperor’s office with quiet efficiency, despite the best efforts of his boss (Galba’s lover) and a half-baked plot to put Otho on the throne, which really shouldn’t have succeeded. Philo is tortured to reveal what he knows of the plot – nothing – and loses his job at the palace; but love conquers all. Throughout, L.J. Trafford effortlessly immerses us in ancient Rome. I’ve probably learnt more from reading this book than from any history lesson, and far more enjoyably. For instance, Imperial slaves were dressed in a white uniform; how did they keep them clean? I want to know more about this underbelly of the empire, and how it functioned. I think I shall have to buy the rest of the series!