Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Wednesday, July 8, 2015

Emperor (series), by Conn Iggulden

As mentioned in my review of Conn Iggulden's Wars of the Roses: Stormbird, it was the first of his many novels I've read. Having enjoyed Stormbird, I looked for other books by Iggulden and found the Emperor series, based on the life of Julius Caesar. Always up for novels based in ancient Rome, I was pleased to discover a series not yet read. First in the series is The Gates of Rome (2003), followed by four sequels.

Unfortunately, I was hugely disappointed. I found it impossible to enjoy novels filled with familiar historical characters and events, yet exhibiting such blatant disregard for historical accuracy. Even the author's concluding "Historical Note" section, where novelists usually confess their sins regarding historical accuracy, was a letdown. No mention is made of any of the many, obvious, egregious departures from known history.

No thorough fact-check will be attempted here, but one example will serve to illustrate the level of historical abuse. Dates are well documented for the major events in the life both of Julius Caesar and his great-nephew Octavian, who eventually succeeded him as Caesar Augustus. Julius was praetor in Spain just before his first election as Consul in 60 BC. Only three years old in Caesar's consular year, the "young man" Octavian of these novels becomes one of Caesar's trusted lieutenants during the Spanish military campaigns.

These were Iggulden's first efforts at historical fiction, so I can at least say that he's come a long way since then, and Stormbird was a tremendous improvement.
If you're at all interested in historically-accurate fictionalized treatments of Julius Caesar and his times, stay far away from these novels. Read Colleen McCullough instead.

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