The Republic of Vengeance

Written by Paul Waters
Review by Phyllis T. Smith

In the late third century BC, Marcus, a 14-year-old Roman journeying to Greece with his father, is captured by pirates. His father is killed, but Marcus escapes. He becomes the friend of Titus Flamininus, and participates, under Flamininus’s leadership, in Rome’s fight to liberate her Greek allies from Macedonian rule, learning hard lessons about tyranny, democracy, and war. He falls in love with a young Greek aristocrat named Menexenos who has much to teach him about commitment and honor.

Like Mary Renault’s classic historical, The Last of the Wine, this novel depicts the forging of a young man’s character in turbulent times, and posits a society in which homosexual love is completely accepted. Waters’s style is flawless. The voice of the first person narrator is absolutely believable. Few novelists I have read other than Renault bring the ancient world alive as well as Waters does here. Among the novel’s strengths are its vivid battle scenes and the restrained, tender love story.

However, the characterization and the plot leave a bit to be desired. Marcus, after passionately dedicating himself to avenging his father’s death, does not bring about a confrontation but meets the murderer several times in accidental ways that strain belief. Fearless in war, he hangs back when the pirate fortuitously kidnaps his own relative. Menexenos must urge him to hunt the pirate down. Marcus hesitates because he deeply dislikes the relative. This seems sensible enough to me, but I doubt that it would to a Roman hero. Nevertheless, Paul Waters is an extraordinary new talent. An “epic series” is promised by the publisher, and I will be looking forward to the next book. Republic of Vengeance is a breathtaking trip to the past: moving, thought-provoking, and a literary treat.