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Robert Harris
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Imperium
hardcover
403 pages
Imperium is the first of two volumes of a fictional biography about the Roman orator, lawyer, statesman. And a successful attempt it's proven to be thus far...

Robert Harris uses the often successful formula of relating the life story of a historical figure through the eyes of a confidante, and he does not disappoint us. The author’s research tells us that the real Tiro indeed wrote a life of Cicero, though no longer extant.

The narrator, here a somewhat priggish and bland character, concentrates on the major events in Cicero’s life, beginning – after a brief excursion to the East to read philosophy in Athens and learning oratory from the famous Apollonius Molon in Rhodes – with Cicero’s prosecution of Verres, the corrupt former governor of Sicily. The next event is Pompey’s war against the Pirates, and the book concludes with Cicero’s successful campaign for consul. (One wonders whether a single sequel will be sufficient to do justice to the remaining major events in Cicero’s life.) For some reason, the pivotal defense of Roscius early in Cicero’s career has been left out. But this may be because the novel largely concerns itself with Cicero’s struggle with his real or perceived adversaries, the aristocrats who disdain the New Man, and the favorite villains for most novelists writing about the late Roman republic, the first “triumvirate”, Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar.

Tiro does his best to show his master warts and all, while still maintaining his loyalty to him, thus creating a fairly complex character of Cicero, and to this reviewer at least, a reasonably approximation of the real man himself as we know him from his extensive writings, especially the letters.

That does not mean that Mr. Harris does not create his very own universe of the era and the man. The villains, mainly the triumvirate, try their outmost to wreck the republic. It is by now fairly well known that he likes to draw the analogy of the Pirates’ War and the events on and after 9/11. That is his novelist’s privilege, of course. Unfortunately, the three men, and especially Crassus and Caesar, often are drawn close to caricature, as are the younger Cato and Catilina. (Plutarch is a convenient source here.) This of course, is one of the dangers when the narrator is largely an outside figure as here, where he is a slave – albeit an exalted one – in the world of high society. So he can only observe from a distance. On occasion, this borders on the bizarre, such as when he happens upon Caesar “bonking,” as another reviewer phrases it, Pompey’s pregnant wife Mucia, in close proximity of her husband. Naturally, to some extent, Tiro cannot but echo his master and the latter’s close associates.

Characters more sympathetic in the narrator’s – and presumably the author’s – eyes, such as wife Terentia, brother Quintus, and the idealistic cousin Lucius, fare better, as does the potential villain Caelius.

That said, the novel is a good read, bringing Rome and the late republic vividly to life. The uncovering of Verres’ horrendous excesses in Sicily is masterful. The reader gets a good introduction to Roman politics, and Cicero’s work habits and his love/hate relationship with Terentia indeed do not strain one’s imagination. Tiro’s well known invention and use of stenography is being put to good use and on occasion does make for a nice suspense. As in the only other book by the author which I have read so far, Pompeii, the prose is excellent.
9/10
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Harry Harrison
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Return to Eden
hard cover
398 pages
Third part of the epic Eden-Trilogy. Our hero Kerrick has rescued his people from the Yilane and they have settled down on an island. Their peace does not last long however as his arch-enemy Vainte hasn't forgotten him....

In West of Eden and Winter in Eden, master novelist Harry Harrison broke new ground with his most ambitious project ever. He brought to vivid life the world as it might have been, where dinosaurs survived, where their intelligent descendants, the Yilane, challenged humans for mastery of the Earth, and where the human Kerrick, a young hunter of the Tanu tribe, grew among the dinosaurs and rose to become their most feared enemy.

Now, in Return to Eden, Harrison brings the epic trilogy to a stunning conclusion. After Kerrick rescues his people from the warlike Yilane, they find a safe haven on an island and there begin to rebuild their shattered lives. But with fierce predators stalking the forests, how long can these unarmed human outcasts hope to survive?

And, of course, Kerrick cannot forget Vainte, his implacable Yilane enemy. She's been cast out from her kind, under sentence of death, but how long will her banishment last? For her strange attraction to Kerrick has turned into a hatred even more powerful than her instincts -- an obsession that compels her to hunt down Kerrick and kill him....

Great story, excellent climax to the Eden series. Whilst the whole idea of dinosaurs ruling the planet takes some getting used to it's an intriguing idea and it works well. Makes one think about how different the worl would have looked if only...

Very entertaining!
9/10
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Running Apache