It is 48 B.C. For years now, the rival Roman generals Caesar and Pompey have engaged in a contest for world domination. Both now turn to Egypt, where Pompey plans a last desperate stand on the banks of the Nile, while Caesar's legendary encounter with queen Cleopatra will spark a romance that reverberates down the centuries. But Egypt is a treacherous land, torn apart by the murderous rivalry between the goddess-queen and her brother King ...
It is 48 B.C. For years now, the rival Roman generals Caesar and Pompey have engaged in a contest for world domination. Both now turn to Egypt, where Pompey plans a last desperate stand on the banks of the Nile, while Caesar's legendary encounter with queen Cleopatra will spark a romance that reverberates down the centuries. But Egypt is a treacherous land, torn apart by the murderous rivalry between the goddess-queen and her brother King Ptolemy.
Into this hot-house atmosphere of intrigue and deception comes Gordianus the Finder, innocently seeking a cure for his wife Bethesda in the sacred waters of the Nile. But when his plans go awry, he finds himself engaged in an even more desperate pursuit - to prove the innocence of the son he once disowned, who stands accused of murder.
The judgment of Caesar will determine the fate of Gordianus's son; the choice Caesar makes between Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy will determine the future of Rome's empire. At the center of these two dilemmas, Gordianus becomes the unwitting fulcrum that will shift the balance of history. Witness to the death throes of the old world, he is to play a critical role in the birth of the world to come.
Drawing scrupulously on historical sources, this is the most ambitious novel yet in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. Saylor presents a bold new vision of Caesar and paints a compelling and original portrait of Cleopatra, amid bloodshed, battles and storms, in a setting of Egyptian magic and mystery.
Perhaps this superb historical novel will be the breakthrough Saylor richly deserves. His previous nine entries in his Roma Sub Rosa series (Roman Blood, etc.) convincingly recreated first-century B.C. Rome through the eyes of a clever and empathetic detective, Gordianus the Finder, whose pursuit of truth has enmeshed him in complicated political intrigues involving such legendary figures as Julius Caesar, Cicero and Pompey. The 10th installment, set in Alexandria, once again features Caesar, now maneuvering between the two rivals for the Egyptian throne, Ptolemy and Cleopatra, in an effort to consolidate his own claim to rule Rome. Gordianus's reputation as an honest fact finder, and his familiarity with the centers of power, make him a valuable asset to all three leaders, even as he grapples with a bitter personal loss. The mystery-the identity of the poisoner who claimed the life of the royal taster and almost killed both Caesar and Cleopatra-is a subplot that appears only late in the book. That the reader is engaged throughout despite this is a compelling testament to Saylor's growth as a writer and to his seemingly effortless ability to imagine characters who feel real. Longtime fans will find the evolution of Gordianus's personal relationships fascinating, but the backstory is not so complex as to bar new readers from entering Saylor's world. Agent, Alan Nevins at The Firm. Author tour. (June 23) Copyright 2004 Reed Business Information.
Traveling to Alexandria in 48 b.c. in hope of curing his Egyptian wife's illness, Gordianus the Finder learns once more that "these days, no place is safer than any other."Just as the Roman ship is about to make port in Bethesda's native land so that she can bathe in the healing waters of the Nile, it's surrounded by a fleet commandeered by Pompey the Great, who swore in A Mist of Prophecies (2002) to see Gordianus dead. Though Pompey's wife Cornelia offers the aging investigator a vial of poison to protect him from her husband's torture, his troubles are only beginning. He'll witness the bloody aftermath of Pompey's own landfall and the vanishing of Bethesda from a temple of Isis. Later, the arrival of Julius Caesar, who plans to impose a Roman peace on Egypt by choosing its ruler from between feuding siblings Ptolemy and Cleopatra, will put Gordianus and Meto, the adopted son he'd disowned for his uncritical loyalty to the First Consul, on the spot when an amphora of wine intended for Caesar and Cleopatra is poisoned, and the evidence seems to point conclusively to Meto. To exonerate him, Gordianus will have to extricate himself from high-tension political rivalries and do what he does best: discover the truth. Expert mystery-mongering closely woven into a pageant featuring the most star-studded cast imaginable. Fans of the historical mystery couldn't do better. Author tour. Agent: Alan Nevins/The Firm
So set was the captain on reaching calmer waters that he took no no-tice of the several ships that lay dead ahead of us, their sails as bright as ivory in the glaring sunlight. Some of the vessels appeared to be war-ships. Such a group, encountered closer to Alexandria, would have given no cause for alarm, for there the harbor and its guardian fleet would have offered protection from vagabonds and pirates. But our location ap-peared to be far from any port or harbor of consequence, so that we might as well have been on the open sea. We were acutely vulnerable to robbery and attack. Even as I was considering this, the captain finally appeared to take notice of the vessels ahead of us. He gave an order to veer southward, toward land, even though that arid, featureless strip of shoreline appeared to offer very little in the way of succor or conceal-ment.
But the other ships had already spotted us, and whatever their inten-tions, seemed unwilling to let us go without an encounter. Two smaller vessels struck out toward us.
Whoever they were, they were practiced sailors with considerable skill at pursuit and capture. Coordinating their movements with ad-mirable precision, they drew apart so as to pull alongside us both to star-board and port, then slowed their speed to match ours. They were close enough now so that I could see the leering faces of the armed men on deck. Were they bent on our destruction, or merely exhilarated by the chase? From the ship to our starboard, an officer called out, "Give it up, Captain! We've caught you fair and square. Raise your oars, or else we'll get rid of them for you!"
The threat was literal; I had seen warships employ just such amaneu-ver, drawing alongside an enemy vessel, veering close, then withdrawing their oars so as to shear off the other ship's still-extended oars, rendering it helpless. With two ships, such a maneuver could be executed on both sides of us simultaneously. Given the skill our pursuers had so far dis-played, I had no doubt that they could pull it off.
The captain was still in a panic, frozen to the spot and speechless. His men looked to him for orders, but received none. We proceeded at full speed, the pursuers matching us and drawing closer on either side.
"By Hercules!" I shouted, tearing myself from Bethesda to run to the captain's side. I gripped his arm. "Give the order to raise oars!"
The captain looked at me blankly. I slapped him across the face. He bolted and moved to strike back at me, then the glimmer of reason lit his eyes. He took a deep breath and raised his arms.
"Lift oars!" he cried. "Trim sail!"
The sailors, heaving with exertion, obeyed at once. Our pursuers, with flawless seamanship, mimicked our actions, and all three ships re-mained side by side even as the waves began to brake our progress.
The ship to our starboard drew even closer. The soldier who had or-dered us to stop spoke again, though he was now so close that he hardly needed to raise his voice. I saw that he wore the insignia of a Roman cen-turion. "Identify yourself!"
The captain cleared his throat. "This is the Andromeda, an Athenian ship with a Greek crew."
"Cretheus, owner and captain."
"Why did you flee when we approached?"
"What fool wouldn't have done the same?"
The centurion laughed. At least he was in good humor. "Where do you sail from?"
"Ostia, the port city of Rome."
"Alexandria. We'd be there now if not for-"
"Just answer the questions! Cargo?"
"Olive oil and wine. In Alexandria we'll be picking up raw line and-"
"Only one party, a fellow and his wife-"
"Is that him, beside you?"
I spoke up. "My name is Gordianus. I'm a Roman citizen."
"Are you now?" The centurion peered at me. "How many in you party?"
"My wife, a bodyguard, two slave boys."
"Are we free to sail on?" said the captain.
"Not yet. All ships without exception are to be boarded and searched and the names of all passengers passed on to the Great One himself. Nothing for you to be alarmed about; standard procedure. Now turn about, and we'll escort you to the fleet."
I cast a wistful glance at the bleak, receding shore. We had not fallen into the clutches of Caesar, or pirates, or renegade soldiers. It was much worse than that. Only one man in the whole world presumed to cal himself Magnus, Great One: Pompey. The Fates had delivered me into the hands of a man who had vowed to see me dead.