Imagine my delight and surprise to learn that Conn Iggulden was to write a fifth book in the series about the life of Julius Caesar. I read the first four around 15 years ago shortly after their release. I thought, as many no doubt did, that that was that – Caesar dead, story over. But no. This fifth book in the series follows Octavian (later to become Emperor Augustus) as he sets about righting the wrongs of the senate.
My first concern was that this would be a shameless cash-in, but Iggulden treats the material and the period with the same respect and diligence that he did before. My other concern was that this would continue beyond Caesar’s life and dilute the series. It was also clear that this would not be the start of a new series but more like an epilogue to Caesar’s story. Again, I was pleased with this. After all, Emperor is the story of Gaius Julius Caesar.
In an odd way, it fulfils exactly that. Julius Caesar does not feature (of course) but it remains his story nonetheless. It is not even about Octavian, but about the actions he took against the group of men who assassinated his adopted father. The book ends with the death of Brutus and with the triumvirate intact. In this, Iggulden has clearly drawn a line under the series in demonstrating his determination for it to remain Caesar’s story. He could easily have written about Octavian’s rise to power, his civil war with Marc Antony and declaration as the first emperor, but chose not to do so.
Some have criticised leaving out this element, complaining that it ends too early and doesn’t go enough into Octavian’s story enough. Respectfully, I disagree in the strongest possible terms. This is not Octavian’s story, but that of Gaius Julius Caesar. It makes perfect sense to end the story where he did.
Iggulden’s work is always easy on the eye but full of detail. He is a master storyteller of the historical fiction genre. Nothing has changed. Historical fiction is often not quite as gripping or flows well as it should. Again, Iggulden bucks this trend with ease. At 450 pages it is an average novel length too, going against the trend for 1200 word tomes bogged down in too much detail and too little story. Great job!
Should you read this? Not as a stand alone. Ultimately, you will find it unsatisfying to cover such a short (yet pivotal) period of Octavian’s life. It is book 5 in a series so if you read the first four, you should certainly read this.