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In her new book about the men who were instrumental in establishing the Rome of the Emperors, Colleen McCullough tells the story of a famous love affair and a man whose sheer ability could lead to only one end -- assassination.
As The October Horse begins, Gaius Julius Caesar is at the height of his stupendous career. When he becomes embroiled in a civil war between Egypt's King Ptolemy and Queen Cleopatra, he finds himself torn between the fascinations of a remarkable woman and his duty as a Roman. Though he must leave Cleopatra, she remains a force in his life as a lover and as the mother of his only son, who can never inherit Caesar's Roman mantle, and therefore cannot solve his father's greatest dilemma -- who will be Caesar's Roman heir?
A hero to all of Rome except to those among his colleagues who see his dictatorial powers as threats to the democratic system they prize so highly, Caesar is determined not to be worshiped as a god or crowned king, but his unique situation conspires to make it seem otherwise. Swearing to bring him down, Caesar's enemies masquerade as friends and loyal supporters while they plot to destroy him. Among them are his cousin and Master of the Horse, Mark Antony, feral and avaricious, priapic and impulsive; Gaius Trebonius, the nobody, who owes him everything; Gaius Cassius, eaten by jealousy; and the two Brutuses, his cousin Decimus, and Marcus, the son of his mistress Servilia, sad victim of his mother and of his uncle Cato, whose daughter he marries. All are in Caesar's debt, all have been raised to high positions, all are outraged by Caesar's autocracy.
Caesar must die, they decide, for only when he is dead will Rome return to her old ways, her old republican self.
With her extraordinary knowledge of Roman history, Colleen McCullough brings Caesar to life as no one has ever done before and surrounds him with an enormous and vivid cast of historical characters, characters like Cleopatra who call to us from beyond the centuries, for McCullough's genius is to make them live again without losing any of the grandeur that was Rome.
Packed with battles on land and sea, with intrigue, love affairs, and murders, the novel moves with amazing speed toward the assassination itself, and then into the ever more complex and dangerous consequences of that act, in which the very fate of Rome is at stake.
The October Horse is about one of the world's pivotal eras, relating as it does events that have continued to echo even into our own times.
Published: Simon & Schuster on
ISBN: 9780743214698
List price: $15.99
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I am an avid egyptologist, adore Julius Caesar, love Cleopatra, and pretty much (metaphorically) devour anything historically and fictionally related to the above. So, when I saw October Horse on the "New Books" stand in the library, I snapped it up. Once I began reading it, though, I felt like I was reading so many other books that had come before it. Nothing new here.more
This is the sixth novel in McCullough's Masters of Rome series, which has been quite a ride. McCullough's prose isn't particularly distinguished, and I've sometimes felt some judicious, nay extensive, cutting would have done wonders for the pacing of these doorstop novels. And the epic scope of these novels begets confusion--it's hard to keep track of her host of minor recurring characters with these mind-numbing Roman names.Yet I give the series high marks nevertheless--some of the books I rated as high as five stars. In her "Author's Afterword" McCullough says that the historical novel "is an excellent way to explore a different time" that is, if "the writer can resist the temptation to visit his own modern attitudes, ethics, morals and ideals upon the period and its characters." And this is where McCullough excels as few other historical novelists do. I've read any number of novels set in Roman times by authors such as Robert Graves, Robert Harris, Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor and Gillian Bradshaw. Not one of them came close to McCullough in creating an Ancient Rome that felt so textured, so at once modern and alien to modern mores. Not even Graves who is by far the superior stylist. Because of this series, when a classicist friend of mine told me she only wanted "dignitas" I knew exactly what she meant.The other thing McCullough is notable for are her characterizations and take on history, which is very different than say, the take in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Everyone in this series is held up to Caesar as a measuring stick and found wanting to the degree they opposed him. McCullough's tyrannicides are petty, cowardly men motivated by spite and envy--not patriotism and love of liberty. Her Cassius left me cold, and her Brutus struck me as pathetic. Their lack of moral grandeur makes it hard to feel moved by their tragic fate. McCullough's Cato is a nearly insane fanatic, her Cicero a pompous poser. McCullough's Cleopatra, whose historical brilliance is suggested by her linguistic gifts--alluded to in the novel--comes across as rather dim here. McCullough's Mark Anthony is a thug without any redeeming quality. And her Octavian, although McCullough gives him his due as a master politician, is absolutely chilling. For me the novel crawled after Caesar's death two-thirds in, because it was hard to care anymore--and all through the other novels, there were characters to care about besides Caesar. There was an exception in the closing third of the book--the women's protest under Hortensia, where she demands that if the triumvirate is going to tax women, they better give them the vote. She's awesome. I loved that scene! All too brief though, and so much after the assassination is mired in political and military minutia rather than the human drama behind the history. In a fictional sense, I prefer Shakespeare's conception, while conceding McCullough probably presents a more historically accurate picture. Probably--although at times I suspect she's more than a little in love with her Caesar--and after all, the history of these times were largely written by the victors.The tedium in the last third, the lack of connection with other characters once Caesar is gone, makes The October Horse the weakest book in the series thus far and makes me want to skip the last book in the series, Anthony and Cleopatra. McCullough says in her "Afterword" she planned to stop with The October Horse, and I think this is where I'll stop too, at least for now. I can't imagine wanting to spend time with her Anthony and her Cleopatra--even though I can't at all regret making my way through the thousands of pages of her Republican Rome.more
Book six in the Masters of Rome series, this novel picks up with Caesar mopping up the remnants of his civil war opponents, his consolidation of power, assassination and the turmoil which results. As you might imagine, Cleopatra plays a prominent role.more
First class research, first class recreation of an alien culture. A bleaker novel than the earlier ones in the series. Caesar is tired, and his assassination might just have come as a relief. Rome is tired, and the unending Civil Wars and succession of increasingly powerful Dictators is leading her to the Principate, the architect of which is introduced to us as a young man of 18, possessing some of Caesar's superior abilities, but a different sort of man, cooler, far more ambitious: where McCullough presented Caesar as thwarted in his desire for his due within the normal parameters of a public career and recognition of his superior abilities, his actions directed towards political survival, she presents Octavian from the start as ambitious for great power and the rule of Rome and the world. Where Caesar awed and delighted us, Octavian chills.more
Plot: The time span between Pharsalus and Philippi. This book gets back on track with action-driven plotlines - first Caesar, then Octavian and Mark Antony as the central figures. There are fewer side plots and background stories than before, and a few gossipy stories belonging into this time frame aren't picked up as they were in earlier volumes. Characters: Caesar follows the path of Marius and Sulla and becomes more interesting the more flaws he develops. Octavian already starts out as a not-too-likable character, while Mark Anthony is sketched a little too stereotypically as a brute. The side characters are the interesting ones once more, though they suffer from not getting as many scandals told as before. Style: The books departs from previous installments by utilizing stream-of-consciousness techniques regularly, not always with success. Third person suits McCullough's style better than first person, and the insights are usually limited and don't add much. Fewer letters than before. The writing feels less dense and lighter to read and there's an undercurrent of the book having been dumbed down just slightly. Fewer maps, which is a blessing, but still the character drawings and no family tree. Plus: Cato. The Brutus plotline. Servilia gets toned down a bit. Minus: Senatorial debates get glossed over, as does a lot of the political maneuvering. Summary: There's a break in style from the previous books, and it's not for the better. Still interesting but not up to the old standards.more
A great series, though to be honest I enjoyed this slightly less than the others...perhaps due to the long gap between publication of this and the previous book in the series.more
Read all 7 reviews

Reviews

I am an avid egyptologist, adore Julius Caesar, love Cleopatra, and pretty much (metaphorically) devour anything historically and fictionally related to the above. So, when I saw October Horse on the "New Books" stand in the library, I snapped it up. Once I began reading it, though, I felt like I was reading so many other books that had come before it. Nothing new here.more
This is the sixth novel in McCullough's Masters of Rome series, which has been quite a ride. McCullough's prose isn't particularly distinguished, and I've sometimes felt some judicious, nay extensive, cutting would have done wonders for the pacing of these doorstop novels. And the epic scope of these novels begets confusion--it's hard to keep track of her host of minor recurring characters with these mind-numbing Roman names.Yet I give the series high marks nevertheless--some of the books I rated as high as five stars. In her "Author's Afterword" McCullough says that the historical novel "is an excellent way to explore a different time" that is, if "the writer can resist the temptation to visit his own modern attitudes, ethics, morals and ideals upon the period and its characters." And this is where McCullough excels as few other historical novelists do. I've read any number of novels set in Roman times by authors such as Robert Graves, Robert Harris, Lindsey Davis, Steven Saylor and Gillian Bradshaw. Not one of them came close to McCullough in creating an Ancient Rome that felt so textured, so at once modern and alien to modern mores. Not even Graves who is by far the superior stylist. Because of this series, when a classicist friend of mine told me she only wanted "dignitas" I knew exactly what she meant.The other thing McCullough is notable for are her characterizations and take on history, which is very different than say, the take in Shakespeare's Julius Caesar. Everyone in this series is held up to Caesar as a measuring stick and found wanting to the degree they opposed him. McCullough's tyrannicides are petty, cowardly men motivated by spite and envy--not patriotism and love of liberty. Her Cassius left me cold, and her Brutus struck me as pathetic. Their lack of moral grandeur makes it hard to feel moved by their tragic fate. McCullough's Cato is a nearly insane fanatic, her Cicero a pompous poser. McCullough's Cleopatra, whose historical brilliance is suggested by her linguistic gifts--alluded to in the novel--comes across as rather dim here. McCullough's Mark Anthony is a thug without any redeeming quality. And her Octavian, although McCullough gives him his due as a master politician, is absolutely chilling. For me the novel crawled after Caesar's death two-thirds in, because it was hard to care anymore--and all through the other novels, there were characters to care about besides Caesar. There was an exception in the closing third of the book--the women's protest under Hortensia, where she demands that if the triumvirate is going to tax women, they better give them the vote. She's awesome. I loved that scene! All too brief though, and so much after the assassination is mired in political and military minutia rather than the human drama behind the history. In a fictional sense, I prefer Shakespeare's conception, while conceding McCullough probably presents a more historically accurate picture. Probably--although at times I suspect she's more than a little in love with her Caesar--and after all, the history of these times were largely written by the victors.The tedium in the last third, the lack of connection with other characters once Caesar is gone, makes The October Horse the weakest book in the series thus far and makes me want to skip the last book in the series, Anthony and Cleopatra. McCullough says in her "Afterword" she planned to stop with The October Horse, and I think this is where I'll stop too, at least for now. I can't imagine wanting to spend time with her Anthony and her Cleopatra--even though I can't at all regret making my way through the thousands of pages of her Republican Rome.more
Book six in the Masters of Rome series, this novel picks up with Caesar mopping up the remnants of his civil war opponents, his consolidation of power, assassination and the turmoil which results. As you might imagine, Cleopatra plays a prominent role.more
First class research, first class recreation of an alien culture. A bleaker novel than the earlier ones in the series. Caesar is tired, and his assassination might just have come as a relief. Rome is tired, and the unending Civil Wars and succession of increasingly powerful Dictators is leading her to the Principate, the architect of which is introduced to us as a young man of 18, possessing some of Caesar's superior abilities, but a different sort of man, cooler, far more ambitious: where McCullough presented Caesar as thwarted in his desire for his due within the normal parameters of a public career and recognition of his superior abilities, his actions directed towards political survival, she presents Octavian from the start as ambitious for great power and the rule of Rome and the world. Where Caesar awed and delighted us, Octavian chills.more
Plot: The time span between Pharsalus and Philippi. This book gets back on track with action-driven plotlines - first Caesar, then Octavian and Mark Antony as the central figures. There are fewer side plots and background stories than before, and a few gossipy stories belonging into this time frame aren't picked up as they were in earlier volumes. Characters: Caesar follows the path of Marius and Sulla and becomes more interesting the more flaws he develops. Octavian already starts out as a not-too-likable character, while Mark Anthony is sketched a little too stereotypically as a brute. The side characters are the interesting ones once more, though they suffer from not getting as many scandals told as before. Style: The books departs from previous installments by utilizing stream-of-consciousness techniques regularly, not always with success. Third person suits McCullough's style better than first person, and the insights are usually limited and don't add much. Fewer letters than before. The writing feels less dense and lighter to read and there's an undercurrent of the book having been dumbed down just slightly. Fewer maps, which is a blessing, but still the character drawings and no family tree. Plus: Cato. The Brutus plotline. Servilia gets toned down a bit. Minus: Senatorial debates get glossed over, as does a lot of the political maneuvering. Summary: There's a break in style from the previous books, and it's not for the better. Still interesting but not up to the old standards.more
A great series, though to be honest I enjoyed this slightly less than the others...perhaps due to the long gap between publication of this and the previous book in the series.more
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