Monday, July 28, 2014

Book Review--Swords of Rome, Vol 1: The Conquerors

Swords of Rome, Volume 1: The Conquerors is an historical graphic novel chronicling the rise of the infamous Nero.

In this volume, the Emperor Claudius is about to divorce the avaricious Agrippina (his fourth wife--and niece), write Nero out of the will, and name his 14-year old son Britannicus heir to the Imperial Throne. 

But Agrippina, Nero's mom, beats Claudius to the punch and poisons him at a banquet, before the orgy commences.  The will conveniently disappears, thanks to Agrippina's minion Pallas, and Nero is sworn-in as the new emperor, thanks to some hefty bribes to the Praetorian Guard, the Senate, and various sycophants.

This, along with some well-placed murders of minor conspirators, secures Nero's position among Roman society.

Just when Agrippina feels she's the true power behind the Imperial Toga, Nero begins to assert himself, and rebel against his mother's wishes.  While taken down a peg, Agrippina is not out and schemes a way to re-insert herself into Nero's life through the prostitute Acte he's smitten by.

Got all this?

I hope so.

I had to troll Wikipedia conduct extensive historical research in order to boil the plot down to something resembling a bite-sized synopsis.

There's a couple of sub-plots involving imperial friends & relatives, senators, gladiators, slave girls, Praetorian Guardsmen, more prostitutes and a witch. 

Readers would benefit greatly if there were a Cast of Characters pages and scene-breaks ("Meanwhile, back at the Lupanar..."), to better understand who's-doing-what-to -whom. There is a footnotes page at the end of the book, which is more interesting than helpful.

Other than these quibbles, along with some bending/omitting of some historical facts, Swords of Rome, Vol 1, is an outstanding book.  It's a graphic novel version of I, Claudius

The story arc is a yardstick authors from Machiavelli to George R. R. Martin base their work on.

Nero is initially depicted in sympathetic light, who feels more comfortable with his doting aunt Domitia than his own mom.  There's a touch of foreshadowing about his fascination with fire, then Nero cuts the apron strings immediately upon the sudden death of Britannicus, thanks to poison administered by one of Agrippina's minions.  (Historically, Nero himself may have been behind it).

The lavish artwork pays close attention to historical detail.  Clothing, arms & armor, along with architecture are accurately portrayed in every panel.

Now if you've seen I, Claudius; or read any of the Game of Thrones novels, nothing in Swords of Rome, Vol 1 won't shock you.  However, the material is definitely for mature readers, due to the violent murders and assassinations, along with sexually explicit scene, which border on an "X" Rating.

Speaking of ratings, I give Swords of Rome, Vol 1, half a point shy of 5-stars because of it's lack of character reference page.

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