Palatine: The Four Emperors — Book 1

Written by L.J. Trafford
Review by Alan Fisk

68 A.D. was the Year of the Four Emperors, and this is the first volume of a tetralogy that will follow each of the four emperors in turn.

Palatine tells the story of the downfall of the Emperor Nero, and its immediate aftermath. At first we are introduced to a large number of characters: Nero himself, his personal secretary Epaphroditus, Epaphroditus’ own secretary the young freedman Philo, the Praetorian Prefect Nymphidius Sabinus, and Nero’s “second Empress”, the flighty and spiteful eunuch Sporus. Other significant characters soon appear, among them Philo’s landlord’s daughter Teretia and the brutal slave overseer Straton. The crowd of characters and the complex events of the story are handled so deftly that I was never lost or confused.

Events move out of the control of all those who were trying to manipulate them. Some characters find love, although one of them can’t see that he has found it, while others find tragedy, death, or mental breakdown.

Palatine contains plenty of humour as well, often in the form of authorial asides, which doesn’t often work, but in this case it does. There is no shortage of originality, too, including the oddest love triangle that I have ever read.

Eventually, the story focuses in on the freedman Philo. I think that we have not yet been told everything about Philo, so the subsequent volumes promise more interest and entertainment.

Palatine reads like a combination of Flashman and the early Lindsey Davis, and I strongly recommend it. Anyone who doesn’t buy this one should be flung from the Tarpeian Rock.