Steven Saylor, the award-winning mystery writer of the Roma Sub Rosa series, undertakes the multigenerational historical saga in his latest novel, Roma. Pioneered by the late James Michener and current purview of novelist Edward Rutherfurd, Saylor’s entry into the genre is a noteworthy one. With his meticulous knowledge of ancient Rome, the subject matter seems a perfect match for someone of his impressive talent—a centuries-long journey from the founding of Rome to the rise and fall of the Republic and the assassination of Julius Caesar.
Saylor frames his compelling, fast-moving narrative in elegant prose, using the device of a fictional family whose fates are closely interwoven with the vicissitudes and fortunes of the city. The cast is large and varied, beginning with a salt trader’s daughter in 1000 B.C. who receives a mysterious gold talisman that will become a family heirloom. Through the eyes of her descendants, the Potitius family, we witness the city’s founding by Romulus and Remus, the struggles and intrigues of plebeians and patricians, Hannibal’s invasion, a mass murderer’s scheme to wipe out a competing dynasty, a vestal virgin’s sacrifice, and the tragic attempt of two sibling politicians to revolutionize Roman society. Throughout we are regaled with the aspirations, delusions, brutal expediencies and hunger for immortality that permeated the struggle to build what arguably became history’s most powerful empire.
Readers seeking a central character to identify with may be thwarted by the swift passage of years and events; those who persist will find themselves in awe of Saylor’s command of his sprawling storyline, his penchant for detail, as well as his evident passion for what is truly his book’s only central character—Rome herself, a city whose complex grandeur and enigmatic allure continue to entice our collective imagination.