The Sword and the Throne
The Sword and the Throne continues the memoir begun in The Last Caesar (HNR 61) of Aulus Caecina Severus, an ambitious senator caught up in the turbulent Year of the Four Emperors, 68-69 AD. A real-life Roman mentioned by Tacitus, Caecina was instrumental in Galba’s plot to overthrow Nero, but now Emperor Galba has summoned him to Rome on an embezzlement charge (‘true…[but] not something for which senators were ever prosecuted’, as our hero wryly observes years later). Bent on revenge, Caecina, now a military commander, joins the march of the Rhine legions over the Alps to Rome to oust Galba in favour of their General, Vitellius. But before long, bad news reaches them: the Praetorian Guard has already replaced Galba with its own man, Otho. There’s no turning back. Caecina has a devious rival to deal with, and soon there’s another threat in the offing.
With Caecina as narrator, the author brings a fresh perspective to an already popular fictional setting. Intelligent, unscrupulous, brave, treacherous, Caecina is a dangerously attractive protagonist manoeuvring at the centre of events and increasingly corrupted by them. The supporting characters are vividly realised too, especially Caecina’s sparky wife Salonina and his clever Hibernian freedman Totavalas.
This is an accomplished novel: well written, smoothly plotted, its dialogue sharp and natural. There are battles, intrigues and betrayals, but also welcome touches of levity. Otters’ noses, anyone?