The Tribune’s Curse: SPQR VII

Written by John Maddox Roberts
Review by Ilysa Magnus

It is 80 B.C., and Decius Cecilius Metullus the Younger is back again, returned from the war in Gaul to his native Rome, and running for an election that is bound to bankrupt him. On his way up the governmental office ladder to who knows where (no one has managed to stop Caesar, Decius’s commander in SPQR VI, and now his uncle-in-law), Decius gets broadsided into investigating the death of a tribune. Not just any tribune, mind you, but a tribune who has led the opposition to the Parthian War and one who, days before, stood atop the city gates and uttered to the assembled multitude a curse so terrible and forbidden that every Roman fears annihilation. Who better equipped than Decius to alleviate the stress and strain of impending annihilation and to propitiate the gods?

Now a married, up-and-coming political figure in Rome, Decius just becomes more attractive, more clever and funnier by the page. At the same time that the viciousness and often, rank stupidity, of Roman politics is revealed, the deep and abiding mystery of the Roman religion is sensitively addressed. We never feel that Roberts is making fun of such a silly curse or making fun of Romans for fearing the potentially devastating effects of it. This is a slice of Roman life at its most vulnerable.

Imaginative, evocative of the time and place and always seeing the humor in life, Roberts captures the best and worst of Roman society. Julia, Decius’s new wife and one of the socially climbing matrons of Rome, is a pleasant new addition to the cast of characters. It seems like there is no end to the trouble that Decius may find himself in, come future installments. I can’t wait.