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The First Man In Rome by Colleen McCollough
Review by PatrickIn the life of a reader, there are those things we read that we remember for a time, and then forget, and there are those things we read that leave impressions which never goes away. It might be a poem that really grasps you, or the book that started a love of science fiction, or a speech that hit some nerve and lingers in the heart.
For me, one of these was The First Man In Rome, by Colleen McCollough. My grandma had gotten it for a few dollars in the bargain bin at Target, and one day when I was in eighth grade she handed it to me, and said I would love it. Now, I wasn’t exactly a stranger to thick books; I’d been reading Tom Clancy for two years. But for some reason, this book intimidated me. Not wanting to disappoint my grandmother however, I thought I’d give it a try.
I was hooked from the very first page. It enthralled me so much that soon after I finished it, I went and bought the first two sequels. The series is set in Rome of the late Republican era, and starts in 110 BC. The First Man In Rome revolves around two main characters. Gaius Marius is a wealthy Plebian statesman and experienced army commander, whose further political ambitions have been foiled by the conservative aristocrats of the Senate, led by the Caecilii Metelli family. Marius is a “New Man,” a newcomer to wealth and power who has no illustrious ancestors. He isn’t even a Roman, strictly speaking, but an Italian, who the contemporary ruling class regard as an uppity country oaf.
Lucius Cornelius Sulla, on the other hand, is a Patrician of most noble birth and lineage; by rights he should have already been well on his way to power and influence. But a dwindling family fortune coupled to his late father’s alcoholism has left him destitute. Fate decrees that the fortunes of both men will change drastically….
Through the book, both Sulla and Marius rise to power and influence, on the both the field of battle and in the political arena. Every paragraph drew me in, and kept me reading until I was sad as my fingers turned the very last page. The author has performed an enormous amount of research, and the world of Republican Rome is recreated in vivid detail, from its greatest glory to its most terrible depravity. The characters, whether historical or truly fictional, are complex and fascinating. And there is an overall aura of mystique associated with fate, fortune, and destiny.
This is the book that really got me into Ancient Rome. Imagine my surprise when I discovered that Marius and Sulla were not just great characters conjured in an author’s imagination, but were instead real historical figures! I started reading more and more, and I’ve never looked back. I give it 5 out of 5 Amulets.
Note: This book does have a lot of foul language (in both English and Latin), sexual situations, and very bloody battlefield violence.
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