Colleen McCullough - The First Man in Rome

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The First Man in Rome: Epic, grand and intense...

Jun 25, 2001 (Updated Dec 13, 2007)
Review by  
Rated a Very Helpful Review

Pros:Excellent introduction to the Late Roman Republic.

Cons:Rather long, but worth the trouble to take it all in.

The Bottom Line: Sweeping novel of the ancient world, before Julius Caesar and Augustus. Grand in scope, but never dull, perfect for a long summer read.


Take a large pot of intrigue, add a full measure of suspense and action, toss in a few great men, and add in a horde of slavering barbarians. Let simmer and stir...

Such, my friends, could be the recipe for this series. When I first found it in the early nineties, I was skeptical. Gazing upon the title, I thought it was about the actual founding of that most eternal of Cities, Roma herself.

Wrong!

On a whim, I bought it, and started to read. Within fifty pages of the beginning, I was hooked. This was a part of history that was not Imperial, nor exalted, but rather a world under seige from the inside, and ready to topple with a simple push. Only one man can save Rome from catatrastrophe, the nobody senator, the cunning Gaius Marius. Faced with a brilliant, unbelievable prophecy, he takes on the Roman world, daring to marry into the ancient Caesar family, and becoming Consul of Rome.

Along with him is the engimatic, unknowable, Lucius Cornelius Sulla, as beautiful as the sun with his red-gold hair, pale as milk skin, and unearthly blue eyes. Reviled as a gigilo, this icy creature is both temptation and horror, and you can't help but be entranced by his drive for power, and the willingness to do whatever it takes to get it.

And here, we have the beginnings of power, and we see these two begin with friendship, which later on turns to something else quite different in future volumes. Lavishly illustrated with pictures of the various characters, and maps showing journeys and military campaigns, this is an epic vivid painting of Roman life, culture and history.

But not only is McCullough's genius shown in the history that she makes so accessable, she makes these characters so very real and vivid. I'll admit it, I found Sulla irresistable, and kept turning pages in this mammoth book to find out what happens next!

And if you think this novel is concerned only with men, guess again, for not only do we meet military and political geniuses, there are also women: the two Julian sisters, Julia Maior, who marries Marius, and Julilla, honey-sweet and just as gold, but flawed on the inside. Aurelia of the Cottae, sensible and wise far beyond her years, with an incredible place in history. Livia Drusa, lovely and tragic. Clitumna and Nicopolis, two women who have the unfortunate fate to become involved with Sulla.

Oh, I've read this one over several times over the years, and each time I'm finding out something new, a connection here and there, to lead onto new discoveries in a future volume. To keep it from being dry, the author is generous with jokes and puns and sly wit, vivid descriptions of daily life, magnificent views of armies on the march, and plenty of details.

In my humble opinion, McCullough has reached the very heights with this series. Compared to The Thorn Birds these novels far outstrip her earlier works. For anyone who loves history and spectacle, these novels are worth it.

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


Recommend this product? Yes


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