Saturday, June 29, 2013
Roman Dusk, by Chelsea Quinn Yarbro
Source: My collection
Description: Rome is crumbling. The child-emperor, Heliogabalus, diverts the Roman populace with parties, circuses, and celebrations, while his mother and grandmother jockey for power behind the scenes. The government is riddled with scandal and no business is conducted without bribes which grow ever larger. Religions joust for prominence, with factions of Christians seeking to overthrow the ancient Roman pantheon. Courtesans, once honored for their skills and protected by special guards, have become targets of opprobrium. (From the dust jacket.)
Review: In general, I like this series, but this book was very disappointing.
The main problem I had was that the story was never particularly compelling. Things did happen, eventually, but they seemed either underwhelming or were over fairly quickly.
The resolutions to the events in question also suffered from the same problem. One was resolved in a letter, which was the first indication we had that the corrupt official was even being investigated, the other one led to a roaring rampage of revenge, which seemed rather disproportionate to what happened.
While Saint-Germain has had similar reactions in earlier books, they were generally over the deaths of people he was much closer too and the people he went after weren't likely to be taken care of by the local authorities. This really wasn't the case here, where he even seemed to know that the authorities had correctly concluded what had happened, had a witness who had confirmed who was responsible, and seemed to be looking for him. Throw in the fact that Roman justice of the era seems to have been rather harsh, and the whole scene seems a bit gratuitous.
The other main problem I had with the book, is that the author seems to have developed a habit of repeating information, a lot. In this book, we get the corrupt official's job, how he gets paid, and how this is different than how it use to be, explained at least three times. These explanations also seem to take place between people who ought to already know all of this. We also get constant reminders that Roman's considered it good luck to cross the threshold with the right foot, which while I could see it coming up if it was normal to remind people about to enter your home of this, but are poorly worked into the dialog and narrative and just kind of stood out to me.
This book seems to be well researched, and certainly gives something of a feel to what life might have been like back then, but, as a story, its rather lacking. As a book in this series, its either a bad introduction or easily skippable.