ROMAN FORUM and the Column of Emperor Phocas (left of centre)
Conspiracies of Rome (Death of Rome Saga, Book 1)
Author: Richard Blake
(Richard Blake is a pseudonym for Sean Gabb. He is a writer, broadcaster and teacher, and lives in Kent with his wife and daughter.)
First published: 2008
Richard Blake’s adventure novel series is set in 7th-Century Europe. This is encouraging as there is a dearth of historical novels set in Europe in the late 6th to early 7th centuries, particularly in Saxon England.
Conspiracies of Rome is a fictional story that is set more than five centuries after the death of Julius Caesar, and three centuries after Constantine the Great. King Ethelbert rules in the Kingdom of Kent, and Augustine with his missionaries from Rome are in full flow.
The central character and first-person narrator is an eighteen-year-old Saxon Aelric, caught in a dalliance with a chieftain’s daughter, and as the story begins, he is about to flee to Rome.
Arriving sometime later in the near-derelict ancient Roman capital city, Aelric and his priest-companion Maximin arrive in search of Latin and Greek books for the library in Canterbury.
What happens next in Rome is a very fast-paced week of intrigue, deception, murder and double-dealing in this city of spies, in which a plot with outcomes of enormous consequence for the Pope, the Emperor Phocas, and Agilulf the Lombard King, all hang in the balance.
Blake has certainly done his homework on late sixth and early seventh century Rome. The city is a place of violence, and this clear throughout the novel. The insightful descriptions of both place and time will surprise many visitors going back in time to this largely overlooked period.
The story unfolds in Aelric’s eighteenth year. He is attractive in appearance, tall, blond, intelligent and very handy with a blade. There is a lot of humour in much of what Aelric says. He also has a keen sense of rightness and tries to treat people fairly, but delivers rough-justice to those who are less principled. The novel is spiced with scenes of Aelric’s sexual preferences, male and female, slave and free. However, the graphic scenes of physical violence could be a turn-off for some readers.
The novel as a whole is a fast-paced read and a very good page-turner as one scene swiftly tumbles into another. Aelric speaks up for theology and Church doctrine, and the author is always informative. Blake avoids being the schoolmaster, much to his credit.
I enjoyed Conspiracies of Rome as a good read, written in engaging, plain English, a whodunit as much as a why-dunnit. I recommend the book to anyone with an interest in Historical Fiction, particularly of this period, and look forward to reading more of Blake’s literary tours of the Mediterranean in his other novels in this as Aelric grows and matures over the next 77 years of his life.