Pages: 416, not including the notes
This is the Roman Empire with Claudius but more significantly, Nero: the emperor immortalized for supposedly fiddling while Rome burned. It traces the life of Sabinus, one of the prominent young senators, military men, and rising stars in the Empire. It also is the transition in religion: while the Romans inherited the many-deities system of the Greeks they conquered, a new religion--Christianity--is beginning to emerge.
Having learned about the Ancient Greeks, then the Middle Ages and onwards, I was interested to know what exactly happened in that gap. The book started out in a very unpromising way; it was a bit pompous, I thought, and felt rather stilted. Still, I'm glad I kept reading, because it improved--that or I got to engrossed in the book to notice.
The atmosphere of uneasiness among the people, the extravagant luxury of the nobility, the cruelty--all of the moods of the environment are set remarkably well. Nero's perverted taste (incest being one of them), as well as his shortcomings and fears are highlighted against Sabinus, who is nearly perfect. In fact, I sort of like Nero better for that; at least he was interesting. According to the author's note, this book was drawn entirely from history. I quote: "All characters and all major and many minor episodes are historical....the portrayal of imperial politics...is fully authentic" although apparently assumptions about relationships are made.
Weak points in this novel included the clumsy way that Latin was inserted in the text; though I dislike them, I'd rather have a glossary at the back than have a textbook style explanation of the terms right in the text. I honestly wonder if the author wrote academic papers on Roman history, because the way the words were inserted was very jarring and often threw me out of the story. Moreover, some of the characters--Tigellinus, Pomponia--could have done with better fleshing out, and giving Sabinus a few not-perfect traits wouldn't hurt, either.
Otherwise, I really enjoyed reading this book. Recommended to anyone with an interest in Roman history or politics, and doesn't mind the truly squicky stuff in there about Nero's perversions. 9/10