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The October Horse (Masters of Rome Series #6)
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The October Horse (Masters of Rome Series #6)

3.8 23
by Colleen McCullough

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With her renowned storytelling gifts in full force, Colleen McCullough delivers a breathtaking novel that proves once again that she is the top historical novelist of our time.

Grand in scope and vivid in detail, McCullough's gripping narrative thrusts readers headlong into the complex and fascinating world of Rome in the tumultuous last days of the Republic. At


With her renowned storytelling gifts in full force, Colleen McCullough delivers a breathtaking novel that proves once again that she is the top historical novelist of our time.

Grand in scope and vivid in detail, McCullough's gripping narrative thrusts readers headlong into the complex and fascinating world of Rome in the tumultuous last days of the Republic. At the height of his power, Gaius Julius Caesar becomes embroiled in a civil war in Egypt, where he finds himself enraptured by Cleopatra, the nation's golden-eyed queen. To do his duty as a Roman, however, he must forsake his love and return to the capital to rule.

Though Caesar's grip on power seems unshakable, the political landscape is treacherous — the returning hero has no obvious successor, and his legacy seems to be the prize for any man with the courage and cunning to fell Rome's laurelled leader. Caesar's jealous enemies masquerade as friends and scheme to oust the autocrat from power and restore true republican government to Rome. But as the plot races to its dramatic conclusion, it becomes clear that with the stakes this high, no alliance is sacred and no motives are pure.

Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher
"An intelligent, page-turning epic that seamlessly mixes love, gore, and ambition." — Kirkus Reviews

"[A] swiftly moving story...packed full of political intrigue, romance, drama, and war." — Booklist

Chris Barsanti
McCullough's fictionalized history of Republican Rome grinds to a halt with this doorstopper volume, the sixth and final of a series about Caesar and Cleopatra and the rise of the Roman Empire. Set in the tumultuous years between 48 and 42 B.C., the story follows the brilliant and charismatic Caesar as he tries to keep the republic from falling apart, and the strangely uninteresting Cleopatra as she has Caesar's child and complains a lot. While McCullough (The Thorn Birds, Morgan's Run) seems as familiar with Roman history as the historians from whose work she draws, her book suffers from a plodding, convoluted and resolutely uninteresting story. There's a lengthy glossary of terms and characters at the end of the novel, but it's unlikely that many readers not already enamored with the series will make it that far.
Publishers Weekly
Caesar may be the nominal protagonist of this last novel in a series of six chronicling the demise of the Roman Republic, but the presiding spirit is that of Octavian (later Augustus), Caesar's successor and Rome's first emperor. McCullough's Octavian is as complex and gifted as her Caesar, but far less moral, just or merciful-a fitting ruler for a Rome grown too unwieldy for republican government. Blessed with the same immediacy and breezy style that made the tumultuous first century B.C. come alive in previous volumes (The First Man of Rome; Caesar: Let the Dice Fly; etc.), McCullough's heady novel begins with Caesar as dictator of Rome. Brilliant, ruthless, ascetic in his habits and devoted to the welfare of Rome, he enacts a series of reforms while consolidating his power and fathering a son with Cleopatra. The Egyptian, here portrayed as spoiled and shortsighted but passionately in love with Caesar, is just one in a panoply of richly imagined characters: Cato, obdurate republican and traditionalist; Mark Antony, a crass brute with a streak of animal cunning; decent Brutus, batted between his mother, the poisonous Servilia, and Porcia, his vengeful wife. Caesar is a bit too perfect in McCullough's telling, and Antony too monstrous; the novel also suffers from a sameness of voice throughout. But the skillfulness of McCullough's portrait of Octavian will make readers wish more novels were in the offing. Introduced as a guarded, talented youth, he is transformed by Caesar's assassination into a merciless, retributive man-or perhaps he simply shows his true colors. The book ends in a dark blaze of vengeance with his pursuit and destruction of Caesar's assassins. (Nov. 26) Forecast: Some 25 years after The Thorn Birds, McCullough is still going strong. Sales should be on a par with those of previous works in the series. Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Library Journal
"Men who are doers can also be thinkers, but the thinking is done on the move, in the midst of events." This line typifies McCullough's vision of Julius Caesar as a man more charismatic, more intelligent, more visionary, and more dynamic than any other in history. Scholars have both lauded Caesar for his military genius, which has often been emulated but never duplicated, and reviled him for single-handedly destroying the Roman Republic and subjugating far-flung lands, and the author stresses that dichotomy here. In this sixth and final entry of her Roman series, McCullough boldly depicts the demise of the empire that Caesar worked so hard to create, closing with his heir, Octavius. This work probably won't be as immediately popular as The Thorn Birds, but it can definitely hold its own with the vast array of novels and nonfiction books on ancient Rome. Though some readers may find the sheer wealth of detail occasionally tedious, the book will find a niche among those who can appreciate the scholarship and research that contributed to recreating Caesar's remarkable career as dictator of Rome. Recommended for larger public libraries that own the rest of the series. [Previewed in Prepub Alert, LJ 8/02; for another portrait of Caesar, see Con Iggulden's Emperor, LJ 10/15/02.-Ed.]-Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK Copyright 2002 Cahners Business Information.
Kirkus Reviews
Sixth and last in McCullough's series detailing the death throes of the Roman Republic (Caesar, 1997, etc.): an intelligent page-turning epic that seamlessly mixes love, gore, and ambition. Here, the focus is on the last years of Caesar's life as enemies plot to kill him, and the young Cleopatra bears his son. The mood now is that of a Mediterranean Götterdämmerung: the skies are sunny, the sea wine-dark, but an end is imminent: it won't be long before Caesar, who has worked hard to preserve and make Rome great, will be cut down by lesser mortals. McCullough, whose research is exemplary, as always, tells the story with contemporary flair and persuasive psychological insights, taking up the action in October 48 B.C. Determined to destroy Caesar and restore the old Republic, Pompey, Brutus, and Cato are mustering their armies in the eastern provinces. They don't understand, as Caesar does, that Rome must change or die: the old ways are too reactionary for a grand city with an enlightened role to play in the world. Reluctantly, Caesar heads to Alexandria to secure Cleopatra's support and acquire funds and materiel. While Cleopatra falls in love with Caesar and bears his son, Caesar plots and plans: he changes the calendar so that it follows the seasons rather than the moon, expands Roman citizenship, and enacts progressive laws. Though Pompey is killed and Cato commits suicide, Brutus, once back in Rome and egged-on by wife Portia, is soon part of the conspiracy-as is Mark Antony-to kill Caesar. The familiar events from Shakespeare are tweaked so that the death of Caesar becomes even more tragic as the conspirators begin destroying all he had accomplished. They raid the treasury forthemselves and fail to take care of the legions. But they soon must contend with the opposition of Caesar's unlikely heir, 18-year-old Octavius. As ambitious as his uncle, he brilliantly outwits them all as the battles and bloodshed continue. A rousing and richly satisfying take on some of history's real beings.

Product Details

Simon & Schuster
Publication date:
Masters of Rome Series , #6
Edition description:
Sales rank:
Product dimensions:
6.12(w) x 9.25(h) x 1.40(d)

Read an Excerpt


The Ides of October marked the end of the campaigning season, and on that day a race was held on the grassy sward of the Campus Martius, just outside the Servian Walls of Republican Rome.

The year's best war horses were harnessed in pairs to chariots and driven at breakneck pace; the right-hand one of the winning pair became the October Horse, and was ritually killed with a spear by the flamen Martialis, the special priest of Mars, who was god of war. Then the October Horse's head and genitalia were amputated. The genitals were rushed to bleed on the sacred hearth in the Regia, Rome's oldest temple, after which they were given to the Vestal Virgins to burn to ashes in the sacred flame of Vesta; later these ashes were mixed into cakes offered on the anniversary of the founding of Rome by her first king, Romulus. The decorated head was tossed into the midst of two teams of humble citizens, one from the Subura district, one from the Sacra Via district, who fought strenuously for possession of it. If the Subura won, the head was nailed to the Turris Mamilia. If the Sacra Via won, the head was nailed to an outer wall of the Regia.

In this ritual so old that no one remembered how it had begun, the very best that Rome owned was sacrificed to the twin powers that ruled her: war and land. Out of them came her might, her prosperity, her everlasting glory. The death of the October Horse was at once a mourning of the past and a vision of the future.

Copyright © 2002 by Colleen McCullough

Meet the Author

Colleen McCullough, a native of Australia, established the department of neurophysiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney before working as a researcher at Yale Medical School for ten years. She is the bestselling author of numerous novels, including The Thorn Birds, and lives with her husband on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific.

Brief Biography

Norfolk Island, 1,000 miles off the Australian coast
Date of Birth:
June 1, 1937
Place of Birth:
Wellington, New South Wales, Australia
Attended University of Sydney

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October Horse (Masters of Rome Series #6) 3.8 out of 5 based on 0 ratings. 22 reviews.
Guest More than 1 year ago
I waited with great anticipation, this book. Even to the extent of sending the Author an E-mail a while back asking when she was going to get it published. I was among the first to get the thing pre-ordered as soon as it showed up as a pre-order item from Barnes and Noble. However, in comparison to the rest of the series, this anticipation was not well placed. I got a sense of lack of enthusiasn, as though, perhaps, she was as tired of writing these books as Caesar was of living, and struggling to live. As usual, I loved the characters and enjoyed getting involved in their individual drama's. In general this series was better than a soap opera. I was looking forward to getting to know Cleopatra from Colleen McCullough's perspective, and she was given such little coverage. The coverage she did get portrayed her as a whiny child who begged Caesar to have sex with her and give her a child for her country instead of the extremely intelligent woman who fought for each and every breath she took and used every means at her disposal to protect her country. There was a little bit of the smart woman,and one definitely got the drift of her spiritual commitment to her people, but mostly the annoying child was the person we got. I could have used some closure with Servilia. She was a very important character in the previous books. She formed the young Brutis and was a first class creep, but still, she was Caesar's favorite squeeze. I needed more closure as to what kind of a fate she saw - even if it was only speculation. If, as was suggested, she really did do in Portia in such an ugly way, we needed to see her get hers in the end too. Or go on to live a long a healthy life. Either way - what happened to Servillia?? In this final book, especially with every reader who knows a little bit about Roman history knowing that Caesar was going to bite the dust at some point, I expected this book to be more character intimate, perhaps along the lines of the The First Man in Rome, or Caesar's Women. We needed more meat regarding Brutis, and especially more on Octavian. It disappointed me that there was so much military stuff to plod through in this final book. By this stage of the game, the readers know that the battles were horrible, the campaigns were a drag - we want more soap opera action to sink our teeth into and to grieve when our favorite hero's or villans die. I was almost relieved when Caesar finally got it. But I didn't feel any of the devastation that I should have felt at such a horrible demise. I will admit, she was graphic in changing my last visualisation of this handsom man into something pretty gruesome. The drama, the soap, the horror and grief. That's part of what made the whole serie so much fun. These were characters that you could really wrap yourself around. You could get involved in their day to day issues from a safe distance and not risk actually become a gossip yourself. The gossip and the passing of the gossip was a treat the reader could indulge in vicariously. Ms. McCullough, good try on this one. Thank you for a wonderful series of books. I have every one of them and will, no doubt read them all again, even the October Horse. When my grandson, an avid reader, is another year or so older, I will probably let him plunge into the the First Man in Rome and then the rest as he's ready. Hopefully, he'll find the hours of enjoyment that I found.
Guest More than 1 year ago
This is the 6th and final episode in the Roman Empire series written by Colleen McCullough. It is a fitting end to a most fasinating series of work. I have been totally and completely engrossed in these books since last Fall and am feeling a sense of loss now that I don't have another one of these to look forward to. Colleen McCullough is the most compelling writer of historical fiction and I look forward to whatever she has planned for the future.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
I was never interested in history before, but when my friend gave me this book I started reading all her books about Rome. McCullough is really the greatest at bringing ancient characters to light. It's almost as if she had known them personally. Her research is excellent.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
When will barnes and nobel put out the other volumes(5) in this series? I READ THIS book in paperback and enjoyed it very much .was not aware this was a series. Oh well still enjoyed it Please put out the other books as well.
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Anonymous More than 1 year ago
Great series
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Guest More than 1 year ago
This book was not about Caesar and Cleopatra, as it sounds. It was mostly about the intricate workings of ancient Roman politics. It felt like it had no plot, just kind of rambled on and on. Do not read this if you are not familiar with Roman history already, you will get very lost.
Anonymous More than 1 year ago
"As you wish."