Colleen McCullough - The Grass Crown

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The Grass Crown: Power at any Price

Jul 14, 2001 (Updated Dec 13, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Exciting, picks up the story, excellent characterizations.

Cons:Long. Very long. Lots of details.

The Bottom Line: Epic, grand, and stirring, this one sweeps you away to ancient Rome, full of politics, schemes and romance.


Picking up some years after the end of McCullough's first book in her Masters of Rome series, The First Man in Rome, we get to see the terrible rivalry between Gaius Marius, and Lucius Cornelius Sulla. Marius, conqueror of the Germans, and Consul of Rome, having been elected to the office more often than anyone else, is recovering from the stroke that felled him in the end of First Man.

And in the other corner is Sulla. Gorgeous, cunning, Sulla, having proven himself in war, is still dismissed as 'unskilled' by Marius, and this has made a terrible wall of envy and jealousy between the two. He is now determined to be more than Marius, to rub his face into the fact that the patrician born Sulla is better than Marius ever could be...

And there is outside influences as well -- the Italian allies are seething under the rule of Rome, ready to rise in revolution and create their own country. Mithradates, King of Pontus, is ready to drive out the Romans from Asia Minor. And all is not calm within the city either.

Factions divide the Senate, with those who believe that people need to have more of a voice, and other wealthy families want to hang onto their privileges. When we see at last that revolt is inevitable, Sulla sees his chance and the Goddess Fate hands him the most beautiful gift of all, the Grass Crown.

As well as the two main protagonists in this, we have a host of other characters: Julia, wife of Marius, and sister-in-law of Sulla; Aurelia, mother of the child Julius Caesar; Livia Drusa, and her children, including the slippery, sly Servilia; and Dalmatica, whose recklessness has Sulla well and truly trapped. Along with them we see people from all walks of life, from Senators, to humble slaves, the denizens of the dangerous Suburba, and politics beyond the hills of Rome.

It's grand, epic storytelling. McCullough weaves in fact, using historical writings, art, poetry, the early writings of Cicero, and her own imagination. What comes across feels right, better than anything Hollywood can come up with. Along with this there's drawings of the main characters, taken from statues and coins, and given a life of their own, making the characters accessable to the reader. She also includes maps and a glossary, which makes the exotic terms and usage understandable.

As I was reading this, I could easily imagine myself with the legions on the move, or walking the narrow streets of Rome. For anyone who wants their historical fiction to come to vivid and startling life, this series is the one to pick up.

It is long, and detailed, not a quick read by any stretch, but you'll come away with a better understanding of the people and civilization that still resonates through our own lives today. After all, it was the Romans who are our distant forebearers and they still fascinates us today.

Five stars. Highly recommended.

The Masters of Rome:
The First Man in Rome
The Grass Crown
Fortune's Favorites -- George Chabot's review
Caesar's Women
Caesar: Let the Dice Fly -- George Chabot's review.
The October Horse
Antony and Cleopatra


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