Reviews for Rubicon, by Steven Saylor

smcleish's review

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Originally published on my blog here in March 2000.

In only seven novels together with a few short stories, Saylor has covered thirty years of the career of his detective, Gordianus the Finder, taking him into his sixties. This is quite rapid progress for a series of detective novels, which often have central characters who hardly age at all over thirty years' worth of writing. In Saylor's series, the character has been closely if sordidly involved in a datable sequence of historical events, which has forced him to age at a sensible rate. He is now reaching quite a formidable age for a Roman, and it will be interesting to see what Saylor does next.

Rubicon is concerned with the beginning of the civil war between Julius Caesar and Pompey, which would eventually lead to the end of the Republic and the establishment of the Empire. As Caesar crosses the Rubicon river into Italy with his troops - something a provincial general was forbidden to do - Rome succumbed to fear over his intentions, government and economy breaking down as thousands fled the city. Pompey also leaves, to organize his own troops, but pays a visit to Gordianus before doing so. He arrives at a rather awkward time, to discover the garrotted body of his nephew and heir Numerius Pompey in the garden. This naturally puts Gordianus in a difficult position, and he is forced to try to find the murderer.

This puzzle is quite difficult, but in fact much of the book is concerned with Gordianus' atttempts to rescue members of his family from the consequences of the civil war. Like all the Gordianus novels (I don't really like the Roma Sub Rosa title of the series), Roman politics is really what interests Saylor in Rubicon, and the puzzle takes a secondary place.

traveller1's review

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For me, this did not work as well as the other Gordianus novels I have read. The story did not have the usual investigative process with the answer becoming apparent towards the end of the novel, rather, we had a tour (well written, well researched, and intense—admittedly), through civil war Italy, but then BANG, the answer to the mystery thrown into our laps. All in all, a bit of a let down.

silverstarswept's review

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Rubicon could not have been more different to the previous Roma Sub Rosa book, [b:The House of the Vestals|102717|The House of the Vestals (Roma Sub Rosa, #6)|Steven Saylor||652030], a fairly light-hearted collection of short stories set a couple of decades before the two books it comes between. The House of the Vestals did a nice job of filling in some of the gaps between [b:Roman Blood|102720|Roman Blood (Roma Sub Rosa, #1)|Steven Saylor||2569207] and [b:Arms of Nemesis|102712|Arms of Nemesis (Roma Sub Rosa, #2)|Steven Saylor||1609422], detailing the development of Gordianus' relationships with his eldest son Eco, his then-slave Bethesda, and various friends. Rubicon threw me right back into the "present", with the political and military landscapes seemingly merging into one as Caesar and Pompey vie for control of Italy and, ultimately, the Roman Republic. Gordianus, famously honest but notoriously non-partisan, finds himself with obligations to both sides: his younger son Meto is an aide, confidant, and (many say) lover of Caesar, while, rather more pressingly, a young relative of Pompey's is murdered in Gordianus' home, and the Great One demands Gordianus finds the killer, taking away his daughter Diana's husband until Pompey knows who's responsible.

Although previous novels have certainly dealt with dark themes (sexual violence in Roman Blood and The Venus Throw come to mind, as well as the ever-present murder), I would argue that Rubicon escalates this to a point we haven't seen before. It also sees Saylor employing a kind of ingenuity that I certainly hadn't expected - the revelation around 85% of the way through immediately called to mind Agatha Christie's [b:The Murder of Roger Ackroyd|16328|The Murder of Roger Ackroyd (Hercule Poirot, #4)|Agatha Christie||1073110], and led me (and Gordianus himself) to reflect on issues of trust and morality. It wasn't only Gordianus whose character was called into question, as Tiro received his first proper spotlight since Roman Blood and was found to be much changed and yet somehow still the same, if only in the fact that his unwavering loyalty is to Cicero alone.

I found this a pretty upsetting read, because I've come to love Roma Sub Rosa for the characters and the relationships between them almost more than the mystery element or the historical setting, and Rubicon changed much of that, moving the series towards what I suspect will be a continued darker and edgier tone. However, it was still a gripping, entertaining, and emotional read - my main complaint being that I feel Meto's storyline deserved proper attention throughout the whole novel, rather than a series of jokes and insinuations about his relationship with Caesar, followed by several huge revelations in a row in the final 15% of the book - and I'm looking forward to continuing the series.