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The October Horse: A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra [Mass Market Paperback]

Colleen McCullough
4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (39 customer reviews)

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Book Description

Oct. 28 2003


With her renowned storytelling gifts in full force, Colleen McCullough delivers a breathtaking novel that is both grand in scope and vivid in detail -- and proves once again why she is the top historical novelist of our time.

In the last days of the Roman Republic, Gaius Julius Caesar is both adored and despised -- but his rule is unshakable. Forced by civil war to leave his beguiling mistress Cleopatra, Caesar turns his eye to the future: who is to inherit the throne of Roman power? But in the shadows of the empire, the talk is of murder. Who among his associates has the cunning and skill to fell the fierce leader -- and brave the dangerous consequences of that cataclysmic act?

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From Publishers Weekly

Caesar may be the nominal protagonist of this last novel in a series of six chronicling the demise of the Roman Republic, but the presiding spirit is that of Octavian (later Augustus), Caesar's successor and Rome's first emperor. McCullough's Octavian is as complex and gifted as her Caesar, but far less moral, just or merciful-a fitting ruler for a Rome grown too unwieldy for republican government. Blessed with the same immediacy and breezy style that made the tumultuous first century B.C. come alive in previous volumes (The First Man of Rome; Caesar: Let the Dice Fly; etc.), McCullough's heady novel begins with Caesar as dictator of Rome. Brilliant, ruthless, ascetic in his habits and devoted to the welfare of Rome, he enacts a series of reforms while consolidating his power and fathering a son with Cleopatra. The Egyptian, here portrayed as spoiled and shortsighted but passionately in love with Caesar, is just one in a panoply of richly imagined characters: Cato, obdurate republican and traditionalist; Mark Antony, a crass brute with a streak of animal cunning; decent Brutus, batted between his mother, the poisonous Servilia, and Porcia, his vengeful wife. Caesar is a bit too perfect in McCullough's telling, and Antony too monstrous; the novel also suffers from a sameness of voice throughout. But the skillfulness of McCullough's portrait of Octavian will make readers wish more novels were in the offing. Introduced as a guarded, talented youth, he is transformed by Caesar's assassination into a merciless, retributive man-or perhaps he simply shows his true colors. The book ends in a dark blaze of vengeance with his pursuit and destruction of Caesar's assassins.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

From Library Journal

"Men who are doers can also be thinkers, but the thinking is done on the move, in the midst of events." This line typifies McCullough's vision of Julius Caesar as a man more charismatic, more intelligent, more visionary, and more dynamic than any other in history. Scholars have both lauded Caesar for his military genius, which has often been emulated but never duplicated, and reviled him for single-handedly destroying the Roman Republic and subjugating far-flung lands, and the author stresses that dichotomy here. In this sixth and final entry of her Roman series, McCullough boldly depicts the demise of the empire that Caesar worked so hard to create, closing with his heir, Octavius. This work probably won't be as immediately popular as The Thorn Birds, but it can definitely hold its own with the vast array of novels and nonfiction books on ancient Rome. Though some readers may find the sheer wealth of detail occasionally tedious, the book will find a niche among those who can appreciate the scholarship and research that contributed to recreating Caesar's remarkable career as dictator of Rome. Recommended for larger public libraries that own the rest of the series.
--Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.

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"I knew I was right-a very slight earthquake," Caesar said as he put the bundle of papers on his desk. Read the first page
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Customer Reviews

Most helpful customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars A Masterfully Woven Story March 10 2004
By Newt Gingrich THE
This is the culminating sixth volume of one of the most important historical novels of our generation. Beginning with "The First Man in Rome" and continuing through "The Grass Crown," "Fortune's Favorites," "Caesar's Women," "Caesar: Let The Dice Fly" and finally "The October Horse: A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra", McCullough has carried us from just before Julius Caesar's birth on through the civil war following his death.

In this extraordinary series it is possible to see the crisis a hegemonic power faces whose political system is incapable of coping with the opportunities and threats which unparalleled power have brought to it.

The corruption and decay of the Roman Senate, the rise of outside interests seeking to bribe and corrupt Rome, the growing crisis for Italians as reactionary elements in Rome refuse to extend citizenship and the reversion of violence both in the street and with the Army all serve as sobering examples for modern citizens to contemplate as they watch the kaleidoscopic changes in our world and our times.

McCullough has the natural story teller's ability to surround big ideas with living, breathing, plotting, conniving, loving and hating people who remind us that politics and history are made by humans, not by anonymous trend lines.

In "The October Horse," Caesar is finishing the civil war against Pompey's forces (especially against Cato the Younger), developing a liaison and an alliance with Cleopatra in Egypt and returning to Rome to begin to reform the system until his enemies assassinate him in the Senate.
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4.0 out of 5 stars "October Horse" a fine finish Feb. 11 2004
After the bombast of "Caesar," which irritated me on several levels, I didn't expect to like "The October Horse." My first reading didn't give me hope; the book felt rushed, stiff, and crammed full of Colleen McCullough's infamous expositions. I put the book away and decided to try later.
Well, over a year has passed and "later" came this week, when I sat down to re-read "The October Horse" and discovered I liked it better than I thought.
"The October Horse" refers to a ceremonial horse race in Rome, whereby the winning horse was sacrificed to Mars and his head made the prize for either the Subura or Via Sacra to gain. The symbol of the October Horse for the Great Man who comes out of nowhere has been used by McCullough to mark Sulla and Caesar. Never has it been more appropriate in Caesar's case than in this book.
Having crossed the Rubicon, beaten Pompey at Pharsalus, and made plans to deal with the remaining "Republicans," Caesar goes to Egypt and there finds that Pompey has been murdered and the Ptolemaic succession is in danger. The young royals are at each other's throats and the Queen, 21-year-old Cleopatra, is desperate to save herself and her country. To do so, she must conceive a child by another God-Monarch. She and Caesar meet for this purpose, and it is curiously charming--hardly the scene of grand seduction out of movies, but sweet in its depiction of the political reality of the event.
Caesar brings stability to Egypt and impregnates Cleopatra, but matters at home in Rome, Africa and the East all require his attention.
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4.0 out of 5 stars Strong, but should have been about Octavian Feb. 8 2004
At first read (as many have noted) this is the weakest book in the series. But on second read, it's one of the strongest. It's a culmination, and then a fresh start. And the fresh start is what salvages the book.
McCullough's subject is obstensibly Rome, but her Caesar worship crowds the rest of Rome off the stage. In an interesting way, maybe this is what the "Liberators" felt--that Caesar had become so powerful, and so fed up with the good old ways, that he was going to transform Rome completely out of recognition. The inheritors of the Famous Families knew that their ancient names wouldn't entitle them to inherit anything at all. A Rome with one man standing above all, that they could tolerate (Marius, Sulla, Pompey). But a Rome with one man changing the very fundamentals of the society--that was too much of a threat. And, in the end, they were right. Octavian's ascendency and the Empire would take power away from the Senate, the Knights, and everyone else who'd considered themselves the traditional masters of Rome.
Caesar's a burnout in this book. His contemporaries are dead (Pompey), exiled (Cato), or avoiding him (Cicero). Unlike Sulla, he has no intention of laying down his dictatorship and partying himself to death. He grimly hangs on, working, working, working. And essentially behaving like a tyrant. This leads to endless plotting among those who simply want to tear him down to salvage their own traditional positions (the Boni) and those who want to tear him down so they can be the Next Caesar (a thorougly nasty Marc Antony). A sense of gloom pervades the first part of the book. We know where this is going. And so does McCullough, who, as another poster said, was in love with Caesar. Unfortunately, the pre-ordained fall of the Perfect Roman lands with a thud.
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Most recent customer reviews
5.0 out of 5 stars awesome
Very in-depth, and just like the rest of the series, does an excellent job of covering the main characters, and the world its set in.
Published on Aug. 11 2012 by Amazon Customer
4.0 out of 5 stars Invitation to a Travel into the Past.
I am interested in the reflection of the end of Roman Republic in fiction from classics to the popular novels. Read more
Published on Feb. 1 2004
2.0 out of 5 stars Was Caesar Really This Boring?
THE OCTOBER HORSE is definitely not up to the standard of the enjoyable earlier books in McCullough's Roman series. In all her Roman novels McCullough has had a crush on Caesar. Read more
Published on Jan. 4 2004 by Jenny Hanniver
3.0 out of 5 stars Misleading
Don't get me wrong, I love Colleen McCullough's writing. She uses meticulous research to write her books, and it shows. Read more
Published on Dec 21 2003 by Katherine R. Mckinney
2.0 out of 5 stars A disapointment
I have read the masters of Rome series 3 times. This was by far the weakest of the series. I think ms McCullough was afflicted by the same thing that afflicted Ian Fleming and... Read more
Published on Dec 3 2003 by Robert W Lawrence
3.0 out of 5 stars Read it. Love it. Take it with a grain of salt.
Caesar said he wanted neither to be a King nor a God. In her new book, _The October Horse_, Colleen McCullough makes him both. Read more
Published on Sept. 10 2003 by Stephanie Dray
5.0 out of 5 stars The last days of the republic and the dawn of the empire
The Roman republic was an entity ahead of its time, by about 1900 years. Nothing similar was to appear in human history until the Declaration of Independence. Read more
Published on Sept. 4 2003 by Amateur curmudgeon
5.0 out of 5 stars Excellent Book
Unlike many popular authors of multi-volume sagas, (who seem to be pressured by their publishers to produce a new installment every year), Colleen McCullough, in her final book on... Read more
Published on July 3 2003
5.0 out of 5 stars Final chapter in an incredible series
Another magnificent title concluding the First Man in Rome series. Once again Colleen McCullough makes you feel as if you are there, and you are reading the absolute true... Read more
Published on June 18 2003 by "cheaton13"
5.0 out of 5 stars Final chapter in an incredible series
Another magnificent title concluding the First Man in Rome series. Once again Colleen McCullough makes you feel as if you are there, and you are reading the absolute true... Read more
Published on June 18 2003 by "cheaton13"
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