The October Horse – Masters of Rome Series – Book 6 by Coleen McCullough
Yes, the inevitable happened! Caesar is dead! “The October Horse” covers a mere 7 years of Roman history, but those 7 years are probably the most life altering years the Republic has ever known. When Caesar dies, mid-way through the book, it is shattering – not just to the residents of Rome, Italy, and far beyond – but to the reader as well. By this time in the series, you feel like you know him personally… and love him. The loss is palpable. I had the double shock of realizing he died during the Ides of March – on the 15th – coincidentally, the exact date I reached that part of the story. It freaked me out!
Julius Caesar was far from perfect. He was a decorated war hero and fearless dictator.
He led battles that resulted in millions of deaths, hundreds of thousands of women and children died because of him, and just as many more were left homeless. He sold millions of men, women, and children into slavery, and amputated hands of mutinous soldiers. But that was all part of the Roman culture, and compared to most other Roman leaders, he was an ethical, highly moral man. He always stayed within the law and tried to do what was best for Rome’s future. Other leaders like Sulla, Gaius Marius, Mark Antony, and Octavian Caesar acted under the Machiavellian principle, allowing for the end to justify any means necessary.
The only thing that kept me enthralled after Caesar’s assassination was to see Caesar’s enemies get their due justice. And typical of Roman crises, Caesar’s death resulted in the standard response – another civil war. A war that spilled over into foreign lands; Gaul, Spain, Egypt, Syria, Africa and all surrounding seas. One of the chapters is amusingly titled “Armies all over the place”. The ultra elite – including the exclusive “Kill Caesar Club” (22 members who all participated in the murder by stabbing him in public at the Forum) against Caesar’s loyal armies led by Caesar’s heir Octavian who is 20 years old. Preposterous but true… it’s quite a story. The assassins expected to be hailed as heros because they rid Rome of it’s dictator. They failed to realize he was hero worshiped by the general public. “The death of Caesar was a liberation, but what it had liberated was chaos.”
I am so tired of reading about Rome’s civil wars. As civilized as Rome presented itself culturally and intellectually to the rest of the world, the Roman elite were barbaric… brutal, narcissistic murderers. It’s really no wonder the Roman Empire finally collapsed. It rotted from within! So much human waste. So much national wealth squandered on civil wars. So much obsession with personal power rather than national prosperity.
And as though that wasn’t enough drama to fill book six of the Masters of Rome series, prior to Caesar’s death he has a hot and steamy love affair with Cleopatra. He fathers a child with her… a child who will someday be the King (and Pharaoh) of Egypt. Colleen McCullough delves into the history, culture, and religious beliefs of Egypt and the events that occurred during that seven year period of time in The October Horse. Egypt – along with Rome and all surrounding areas – were suffering terrible drought and food shortages. Egypt also suffered a plague and lost millions of people. And did I mention the barbaric beheading of Pompey and Cicero?
In summary, October Horse is my least favorite of the series so far. Not only is the content dreadfully violent with the repetitious wars and the tedious battle scenes, but the writing seems to be getting worse. McCullough is running out of steam. A part of her passion for the project may have died with Caesar. One more book to go – Antony and Cleopatra.
Rated 3.5 Stars
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