on October 2, 2003
"Rubicon" is a brisk, absorbing read, one of the better popular historical novels set in ancient Rome during the lifetime of Julius Caesar. Saylor knows how to tell a story well, and he keeps his murder-mystery plots moving efficiently along. He creates interesting characters and credible conflicts and difficulties for them. This particular novel in Saylor's excellent Rome series is not the strongest, but it was certainly enjoyable. The main problem for this one is that Saylor leaves the mystery behind far too long in one stretch of the book, almost forgetting the murder with which his story began. In fact, Saylor's retelling of the story of Pompey's strategic retreat from Rome after Julius Caesar crosses the Rubicon has greater drama than solving the murder of Pompey's nephew. Saylor can't quite make these parts of the story adhere in a completely satisfying way. But I am certainly not complaining. Saylor has given us another fine story of Rome during the fascinating Civil War. His presentation of daily life in Rome is always aptly detailed and engrossing. He also has given this story a bit of philosophical depth by focusing closely at times on the psychology of the series' "detective", Gordianus the Finder. Moreover, the chapters on the battle at Brundisium, in which Pompey barely succeeded in escaping Caesar's fearsome army by fleeing across the Adriatic, are a compelling addition to the massive historical literature on the Roman Civil War. Overall, well done, Mr. Saylor. "Rubicon" does not rise to literature, but it certainly is good historical fiction.
on August 31, 2003
Overall, Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series is as good as any historical fiction series going. However, having read all of the books in the series to date, this one is the weakest of the lot. Saylor does not give this one the richness of detail and historical context of the other novels. It feels rushed and not well thought out. Also, and most annoyingly, there is a substantial discontinuity between this book and the prior one in the series, "A Murder on the Appian Way". Saylor completely changes the background of the character Davus. Saylor's reasons for doing so are quite apparent but not convincing. This is a cardinal sin in a series where the general storyline and main characters are continuous and the books frequently contain cross-references. It is extremely jarring for longtime readers of the series to be asked to forget portions of a prior book.
Also, Saylor plays with fire (no pun intended) in the resolution of this book. Some readers may find the daring revelation at the climax to be inspired, but to me it is contrived and repetitive (weren't we on similar ground in "The Venus Throw"?).
The Gordianus books are a fine series of historical fiction and Saylor is a talented guy, but he can do better than this.
on March 17, 2003
Even readers not drawn to historical settings should explore Saylor's impressive series (Murder on the Appian Way, etc.) set in ancient Rome. Saylor's protagonist, Gordianus the Finder, whom Cicero characterizes as "the most honest man in Rome," is an astute citizen and a detective for the Senate. An independent thinker, Gordianus has freed his slaves, marrying one, and adopted several orphans whom he has raised as his own sons. But at 61, the wily Gordianus finds his survival instincts pushed to the utmost, for Rome is on the verge of civil war and all must be careful with their alliances. Caesar has crossed the Rubicon with his army, and his rival, Pompey, the head of the Roman Senate, is about to abandon the city, leaving its citizens without laws and protection. In the midst of this turmoil, Pompey's favorite cousin and trusted courier is murdered in Gordianus's garden. Infuriated, Pompey orders the sleuth to find the killer, insuring his loyalty by impressing one of Gordianus's relatives into his own army. While Gordianus copes with this treacherous mix of family and politics, a heightened frenzy overtakes Rome as it awaits Caesar's possible invasion. Saylor writes about ancient Rome as naturally and comfortably as if he had lived there, capturing both its glory and brutality. Finely shadowed characters and an action-packed finale make this a praiseworthy addition to a series that deserves wide attention. Agent, Alan Nevins; author tour.
on August 17, 2001
I have now (hopelessly addicted) read all (but one) of the Roma Sub Rosa series featuring the charming, warmly human Roman gumshoe, Gordianus the Finder, and would place this one in the middle of the pack. The back-drop is spectacular - Rome is on the brink of civil war, with Julius Caesar's troops having crossed the Rubicon into Northern Italy to meet Pompey the Great's forces amassed in the south of Italy. Rome is a shambles, a city on the brink of utter dissolution, and amidst the atrocities about to blossom, Pompey's nephew is strangled in Gordianus' own house. The solution of this particular mystery takes on enormously personal import for Gordianus and his family. And it's a really, really, fun ride...but, I have to quibble with one point - while I know that the fun of these novels is really the characters (who are rich, funny, crass, and totally alive), and the vivid historical setting, not the mystery per se - the resolution of this one felt like a cheat. To the author's credit, out of the 6 Gordianus books I've read, this is the only one that doesn't feel like it resolves believably. But it is still a grand read - as much for the development of the characters I have come to know and love from the other books in the series. I applaud Saylor for allowing his characters to age believably, and to grow and change with time. I can't wait to read "Last Seen in Massilia". Note to Steven Saylor: Write faster!
on May 21, 2001
After a rather lame novel ("A murder on the Appian way")comes this sequel that really picks-up the spirit of the series. No lengthy narratives either; unlike the rest of them, it jumps right in: Gordianus finds a corpse in his own garden, and no one seems to know who might have possibly committed the crime. Even the watchful Minerva seems oblivious.
Gordianus is thus drawn into a saga of lies, deception, blackmail and brutal war. The story centers itself on Caesar's famous crossing of the Rubicon river, at the north of Italy, an event that precipitated the civil war that would, eventually, make him Caesar of the vast Roman Empire.
Once more, Gordianus's involvement is mainly personal: Pompey has given him an order to find the murderer of Numerious - a distant relative and the character found strangled in Gordianus's garden. Until this is accomplished, he'll take Diana's husband, Davus, as a guarantee with him to the front. Needless to say, Gordianus's daughter is devastated and so is everyone else.
Readers will be surprised at the actions of Gordianus - quite shocking, as in one of the previous novels; but that would be telling. Then again, what wouldn't anyone do for one's own family, especially if one's the head of it? Dare to cross this Rubicon.
on August 9, 2002
Saylor remains a master of the written word, crafting a novel that flows seamlessly and effortlessly draws the reader into Ancient Rome. Yet Rubicon strikes with a very different impact from all of the preceeding Roma Sub Rosa novels. For one thing, the prose, while still enjoyable, lacks the power that was evident at times in earlier books. For another, it appears that Saylor has once and for all eschewed mystery in favor of straight historical drama. Although Rubicon begins with a mysterious dead body, the mystery surrounding it disappears quickly; instead, Gordianus becomes deeply enmeshed in the struggle between Caesar and Pompey, spending a great deal of time with Cicero's former slave, Tiro (who turns out to be a character best met in moderation; he suffers from prolonged exposure). Finally, Rubicon is much too short and too fast-paced - it's almost Saylor-lite. All of these things are not *necessarily* bad, but leave me feeling apprehensive about the next book.
on September 5, 2000
The hero is back in the thick of the action, even though he is feeling his age. He is thrust into the thick of the most famous Roman Civil War. His puzzle or mystery concerns members of both factions,a nd he interacts with them in a wonderful manner. There is lots of believable history mixed into this adventure, and the characters and situations stand side by side with descriptions from Cicero, Julius Caesar and Lucan! I won't spoil the ending, but I read this in one sitting, well into the wee hours, and placed it down with regret, wishing I could already see the next part of the adventure! I am making this a suggested reading for my Honors World History class! Steven Saylor makes history come alive, with all the shiny swords and polished armor, as well as dingy, smelly backroads and dirty secrets. Take a trip through the time of Julius Caesar, Pompey Magnus and Gordianus the Finder, you will be glad you spent your time so well!
on September 12, 2000
Our intrepid hero, Gordianus the Finder, is back in another mystery, much older than the last time we saw him. Civil war is about to break out in Rome, with the rivalry between Caesar and Pompey coming to a head. To make everything worse, a close relative of Pompey's is killed in Gordianus' home, and the Great One coerces Gordianus to find the killer by impressing our hero's son-in-law into his service. As usual, the author's extensive knowledge of ancient Rome is worn lightly, so that you learn a lot about the time and place without appearing to be taught. This series is every bit as good as the Marcus Didius Falco series on Rome, even though it takes place a century earlier. If you haven't read any of these books, begin the series and go through them all seven of them. They are well worth the effort!
on October 16, 2002
That's the way this author brings to life the Roman Empire. He is wildly successful in making Rome a comfortable place to be. The plot would be no less fascinating were it to occur in the modern day. Whenever I am reading a novel of ancient Rome, I cannot help but draw comparisons to Colleen McCullough's series (starting with "The Grass Crown"). Her series is unquestionably more researched and has a more in depth feel. However, what Saylor lacks in historical accuracy he makes up for in "page-turn-ability". This is a great read with wonderfully fleshed out and believable characters - even if their sensibilities and language do seem a bit modern. Apparently I have started at the seventh book in his series and I look forward to reading number one and following the series.
on June 7, 2004
This book was a colossal disappointment. In Rubicon, Saylor does not use any of the lush characterization or attention to historical detail that he used in his previous novels in the Gordianus the Finder series.
Even worse, was the fact that this is a mystery novel without a real mystery. The reader is able to figure out whodunit very early on in the book. However, the detective Gordianus the Finder does not reveal the solution until after going through a series of contrived incidents that violate the readers's suspension of disbelief. The only reason why the solution was not revealed early on is that this would have made Rubicon no more than a novelette. In other words, Rubicon is a novelette with about 200+ pages of padding.
I give this novel a 1 out of 5 rating.