Monday, November 9, 2009

Caesar's Judgement

The Judgment of Caesar
© 2005 Steven Saylor
352 pages

When we last left Rome under the rose,  the civil war between Caesar and Pompey began to slowly conclude as Pompey's ranks dwindled and his history of victories was rendered meaningless by a long string of defeats to Caesar. Saylor moved his attention from the conflict back to Rome and its many mysteries, and we saw Gordianus attempt to solve the mystery of a young woman's murder. He was quite close to the deceased, and The Judgment of Caesar opens with his family traveling to Egypt to put her remains to rest in the Nile. This is not the only matter that brings Gordianus to Egypt, nor is it his primary concern: his wife Bethesda has been ill for some time now, and they have come to Egypt primarily in hopes of finding a cure for her in the Nile.

Gordianus' timing could have stood improvement: as his ship draws near Alexandria, it is captured by Pompey's forces. The last time Pompey and Gordianus stood on a ship together, Pompey attempted to strangle our protagonist with his own bare hands -- and his regard for Gordianus has not improved since. Caesar's arrival complicates matters, and Gordianus soon finds himself dumped unceremoniously in the ocean while the two great fleets manuever -- lost to his family and friends. Fate will bring them back together again, of course, and Gordianus will find himself in the thick of political manueverings between Julius Caesar, the boy-king Ptolemy, and his sister/wife/queen Cleopatra.

Caesar's Judgment, like Catalina's Riddle, is more political thriller than mystery. The book's mystery -- the attempted murder of Caesar and Cleopatra -- appears two hundred pages in and is resolved within twenty. Although Caesar is "judge" in the matter, taking Gordianus' investigations into account, his most important decision lies in which of the Egyptian monarchs he intends to support. As is common with Saylor, he supplements the book with historical notes, explaining how he worked the clay of historical facts into the crafted work that is this altogether riveting political historical fiction.

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