• Review of Day of the Caesars

    Review of
    Day of the Caesars by Simon Scarrow
    Reviewed by The Wandering Storyteller

    Power combined with the vices of political bickering and jealous insecurities of privileged aristocrats brought Rome to the political brink many times during its history. Roman Emperors from the time of Augustus claimed their legitimacy from the Gods. The year is 54 AD. Rome is threatened by a succession crisis after Emperor Claudius’s demise. A power struggle festers between Britannicus and Nero, two brothers vying for the throne. That is what the novel’s theme essentially is. However this series is not about them, it is about Macro and Cato. Macro is a bumbling fool, but strong and patient. Cato is the refined soldier that refuses to do anything with politics, ultimately however power can take good men from their lives and ruin them. This is the 16th entry in the Macro and Cato series that has spawned these two soldiers from the sight of the pyramids to the fringes of the Roman Empire’s border in Britannia. The book can be read standalone as Simon has written the novel in a way that you do not need to know the whole backstory of the fifteen previous entries.

    The Beginning
    Cato’s promotion to the Praetorian Guard promotes an identity crisis within his own needs and feelings. He has stumbled upon a letter revealing that his wife’s faithlessness was a lie. She died in a political cause in trying to prevent Nero from coming to power. Cato is now alone, leaving himself, Marcus and his son. He has no one else to rely upon. Macro and Cato are then sent to Rome. While they live in the Praetorian Barracks, they find that lack of money has caused the entire institution to become corrupt. Pallas, one of the most powerful freed-men in the Empire threatens Cato into his service. Cato refuses. They have a shared history of so-called friendly mutual corporation. The best analogy would be when Cao Cao had Guan Yu in his service, although Cao Cao liked Guan Yu, the God of War wanted to serve his brother Liu Bei. In this instance, Pallas wanted to use Cato for his own needs as a useful pet. The reputation of Pallas was not easily averted. Pallas as a freedman in the service of Emperor Nero has become the most powerful man in Rome. Therefore no one would even think to cross him twice unless they wanted to end up being thrown by the Tarpeian Rock. This man was simply a man of power that had shadowy hands stretching across all of Rome. In this term, Cato is pressed into his service when Pallas threatens the death of his son. Cato attempts to build a relationship with his son, Lucius who is without a mother. The entire novel is based on protecting his child away from the ‘noble’ men and women of Rome. Scarrow has written the book in such a way that you would not need to remember the previous events. It is about a father trying to protect his little son while being thrust into the vast grip of corruption that rules Rome with Nero's ascension to the throne.

    Macro and Cato are thrust into Roman politics once more when Vespasian’s wife invites them for dinner. There is no stone unturned to reveal the brutality of Nero’s capability of ruthlessness. Scarrow effectively uses the son-mother trope, and in this situation, Nero’s reliance on his mother is quite frankly wasted. Simon does not use this scene to demonstrate the spoilt influence that Agrippina was primarily responsible for her own son, which would lead to her own downfall. Agrippina's influence within the story was minimal, and the extent to her pandering of her son was like Cersei Lannister doing exactly the same. There was not much scope. It was the result of her pandering that Nero turned out to become a despotic Emperor rather than a competent emperor. This did not overall impact the development of the story by any significant margin. Nero’s power demonstrates his ability to scare people. In a disagreement with Nero's brother Britannicus, his bodyguard beats the brother, letting his screams ring high into the ears of the audience. No one acts. No one says a thing.

    It goes to show that you never mess with crazy Roman Emperors and their deluded sons. Talk about power and politics indeed.

    There’s also a cameo of Vespasian as well! After this event, Cato is struggling to come to terms with his wife's betrayal and raising his son. Cato is framed for the murder of a famous senator. Pallas accuses him of being a murderer. Nevertheless, this is one of Scarrow’s best moments in his writing. The ability to show that even a simple soldier promoted to the most famous institution in all of the Empire is no different than an innocent man framed for a murder. As long as people possess power beyond their means, it makes no difference. Without wealth and connection, you cannot influence everybody or anyone.

    The Middle:
    With the reach of Pallas and his influence, Cato is forced to hide in Rome. He assumes the role of a beggar and keeps spying on potential people that would have framed him. A fire breaks out in Rome where Cato attempts to save a woman. He saves the child, but an assassin saves him before throwing the women away into the fire. Cato wakes up to find himself in the residence of Vespasian’s wife Domitia, who wishes to restore the Republic. The realization hits Cato when he realizes his wife, Julia was involved in Domitia's plot. I think this was an excellent motivation done by Scarrow in which Cato found out his wife had been manipulated by a power-hungry wife of Vespasian. Then again if you look at Cato’s situation, he should have expected this since he married the daughter of a senator. Cato would be a brilliant soldier in the battlefield, but at domestic politics, he wouldn’t be able to circumnavigate the complexities of political intrigue in Rome. Her father motivated her to join. Domitia attempts to convince Cato of their cause, but that peace is soon broken when Macro arrives. Macro and Cato console each other while finding out that Narcissus has returned. A quiet friendly dialogue is exchanged between them, to say the least. It was Domitia that attempted to recruit Julia into a cause that quite frankly never worked. If I was Cato, I would never have forgiven her. During this time, little side-story shows our tough old bastard army veteran Macro finding love. Quite unusual indeed. Macro’s situation of finding love doesn’t change him, but it is nice to see the tough bastard getting a love interest. He deserves it. To summarize the sub-plot of Macro would be difficult as there are not enough scenes present to determine whether this relationship is to be examined properly. I feel Macro’s love interested needed more scenes.

    Cato convinces Macro to take his son Lucius outside of Rome. In a particular scene, Lucius being a little boy is fascinated with the world. The poor lad can’t keep his mouth shut. Luckily Macro saves him from opening his mouth further. Sooner or later, he becomes a beggar and then wanders around Rome finding out information. He soon finds out that another beggar has been constantly following him. Macro is drinking in Rome's taverns before seeing Cato. It is revealed that the beggar was the one that had saved Cato during the fire under the instructions of Domitia.

    Pallas puts the blame on him, and Cato hides for weeks, trying not to get into trouble until Macro finds him. Cato attempts to have his son taken out of Rome. Macro agrees. He also finds a new woman for him to love as well. He's a tough old bastard that hates barbarians. Macro and his lover take them out of Rome and make sure to keep his little's son mouth shut in case he opens up. Cato meanwhile tries to find out who was behind framing him. Sooner or later, he becomes a beggar and then wanders around Rome finding out information. He soon finds out that another beggar has been constantly following him. Macro is drinking in Rome's taverns before seeing Cato.

    The End:
    Cato discovers that his son is stolen. They find the beggar who reveals he was working for Narcissus and Vespasian's wife, who also engineered the robbery of his son and that the Republicans want to restore the Roman Republic. During the ending, the Republican legions fail to destroy Rome. Consistently in this novel, the power of the Praetorian Guard was demonstrated, as they often rebelled because during Nero's ascension they had no money. Nero and Pallas also agreed to burn sections of Rome, which I feel is inaccurate, as Nero did not do this. He helped rebuild Rome rather than what the legends say of him. The demonstration of Nero’s ability to burn Rome and not feel a thing for his people is more creative liberty. Nero in his early years was loved by his people, imagining that his power declined swiftly in this scene was not convincing enough to rationalize him descending him into madness. In the end, he saves his son and kills Narcissus. Cato and Macro are celebrating in the Imperial Palace when Pallas again forces Cato to move out of Rome. Cato refuses at first, but then Pallas threatens him that Rome is not a place for a good man. There is a war bordering near the East, with Corbulo wanting to have Cato in his army.

    This novel is geared for those that love Nero and Rome. However, the novel’s substantial depth in terms of the plot felt more setting up the events of a particular succession crisis. I understand that many other novels and articles have been written on the same subject. I imagine Scarrow wanted to provide his own definition of his interpretation of Nero’s succession crisis. On the one hand, it was too broad for a plot to cover everything through the eyes of two soldiers. Specifically, because Nero’s succession needs an entire novel alone. The pacing of the story was under-used, and the power of the Praetorian Guard was equally equitable. Scarrow went for a bad portrayal of Nero rather than opting for a good look. In particular, a scene depicts Marcus and Cato going after Narcissus, and Emperor Nero decides to burn parts of Rome with no sympathy. I read somewhere that after the fire of Rome, Nero helped rebuilt Rome. The scene’s creative liberty did not suspend my disbelief that Nero would have willingly burned the city. Napoleon’s troops would have looted the town of Dresden, whereas Field Marshall Davout had a strict opposition to this behavior. The threats of paying money, however, was not powerful enough in terms of power stakes. The novel was more focused on a particular succession crisis, thus obstructing the reader from getting to enjoy the power struggle that occurred during Nero’s reign. The story did not bring a change in Cato’s behavior or personality. I feel Cato isn’t equipped enough to deal with politics, whereas Macro got his love interest, however it did not change his personality to become a ruthless soldier that knows enough about politics. It just felt he fulfilled the stereotypical rude army veteran. Would I say this is a pick up now? Yes.
    Comments 6 Comments
    1. Swaeft's Avatar
      Swaeft -
      Such a great review...if only I had the time to go read the actual novel
    1. The Wandering Storyteller's Avatar
      The Wandering Storyteller -
      Quote Originally Posted by Swaeft View Post
      Such a great review...if only I had the time to go read the actual novel
      Do you have audible? Audible has this for free
    1. Lusitanio's Avatar
      Lusitanio -
      It's interesting that you say that the book can be read as a standalone, since reading all the other entries just to understand this one would be very time consuming, unless the reader really wants to read them all.

      Great review, loved the fact that you divided it in three parts, making it an easy read and your comments about the author seem on point
    1. The Wandering Storyteller's Avatar
      The Wandering Storyteller -
      thank you glad you liked it
    1. Hagdar's Avatar
      Hagdar -
      His entire series is great. Got all of them.
    1. Saul Tyre's Avatar
      Saul Tyre -
      Me too, Eagles of the Empire is an excellent series, book 18 Traitors of the Empire due out in November