Sons of Rome (Rise of Emperors 1)

Written by Gordon Doherty Simon Turney
Review by Martin Bourne

The first of a projected series called The Rise of the Emperors, this book details the intertwining lives of two major figures of the late Roman empire: Maxentius, the last pagan Emperor, and the much better-known Constantine the Great, the man who paved the way for Christianity to become the official religion of the Empire.  The story follows them from boyhood friendship to their breakup as rivals for the supreme leadership of the Western Empire.

The chapters alternate between each protagonist’s viewpoint, with the authors dividing the story between them, one telling Maxentius’s story and the other Constantine’s.  They have very similar writing styles, so the transitions are quite seamless.

As the book’s historical notes state, very little is known for certain about Maxentius, and Constantine was an enigmatic character whose actions were often contradictory.  The authors can therefore follow historical facts easily and yet have room for their own imaginative interpretation.  In their understanding Maxentius is a bookish intellectual traditionalist, much despised by his power-hungry relatives and associates, whereas Constantine is a very physical, soldierly outsider chiefly motivated by a desire to keep his loved ones safe.  It’s touching to see how they come to connect, and heartbreaking to watch their friendship slowly unravelling because of power-politics.  This is a fine read, and an excellent start to a promising series.