Praetorian: The Great Game
Truly excellent historical fiction takes the reader by the scruff of the neck and yanks him or her back to whatever period it is depicting. One moment, you are sitting in your favourite chair with a cup of tea nicely within reach, the next you are assailed by the unfamiliar sounds, sights and smells of somewhere totally different. Turney delivers great historical fiction.
In this case, I am back in Roman times, walking side-by-side with Gnaeus Marcius Rustius Rufinus, through his recent bravery promoted to the Praetorian Guard – not, as per Rufinus, necessarily a good thing.
The times are restless. Marcus Aurelius is dead, his young son Commodus is the new emperor, and his utterly unlikable sister Lucilla is plotting to assassinate him. For those whose familiarity with Commodus is restricted to Joaquin Phoenix in Gladiator, this sounds entirely wrong – Commodus is the bad guy, not Lucilla. After reading this book, the jury is out. Fickle and vain, Commodus is also depicted as being courageous, charming and in earnest about being a good emperor. His sister is equally fickle, equally vain, and corroded by her desire for power – imperial power. Caught in the midst of all this is our engaging – no, let’s rephrase – wonderfully complex protagonist Rufinus, ordered to infiltrate Lucilla’s household and stop the conspirators before it is too late.
What follows is a deliciously constructed plot, further bolstered by descriptions so vivid – and so effortlessly woven into the narrative – that I can’t put the book down, only to suddenly realise it is over, and how am I to stand the wait for the next Rufinus book?
A tour de force, from the first page to the last, and Mr Turney has thereby presented himself as an author whose books I will proceed to devour, one by one. And as to our black-haired pugilist hero, Rufinus has wormed his way right into my heart – no doubt due to that engaging combination of wit, courage and sheer charm. Ave, Mr Turney, Rome has found a new hero!