The story begins in AD 63, in Coriallum in Gaul, during the reign of the emperor Nero. It has come to the attention of the Emperor that a prophecy is in circulation predicting that Rome will burn in the year of the phoenix and bring the kingdom of heaven to earth. Understandably Nero wants to prevent this from happening, and so he asks the spy, Sebastos Pantera to find out what he can, who is involved and ultimately to ensure that this prophecy doesn’t become reality.
But there are other things going on as well. A young boy named Math, who dreams of driving a chariot on the greatest stage in Rome, has caught the emperor’s eye. Nero’s reputation for cruelty is well-known, and so Pantera and the leader of the chariot team Math races for, Ajax, do all they can to protect him from the emperor.
This journey will take them all from northern Gaul to Alexandria and then on to Rome. But can they really protect Math from the most powerful man in the Empire? And what of the healer Hannah? What is her story? As they get closer to the truth, many secrets will be revealed…but will they be able to stop Rome burning?
I have a somewhat mixed review of this book. Let’s start with the positives: This was an interesting take on the Great Fire of Rome and I loved the characters. It was them that kept me reading, hooking me from the beginning of the story and not letting me go until I had reached the last pages. Many of them were some of the best characters I have come across and have earned a place on my favourite characters list.
The negative: I found it very hard to get interested in the story line itself. The whole idea of the prophecy rather surprisingly did not grab my attention. Usually I love this sort of thing. Instead, I was reading because I liked the characters. I wanted to know how they fared as the story unfolded.
The book is packed with historical detail and so it doesn’t matter where in the Roman Empire the current scene is set, you can clearly visualise it and the characters. The characters are well-rounded and interact convincingly with each other. The story is well-paced and is moved forward by scenes full of action and energy.
Although this is the first book in this particular series, I learned that a few of the characters had featured in the author’s previous series based around the Celtic warrior queen, Boudicca. Even though it has no bearing on the understanding of this book or my enjoyment of it, had I known beforehand, I probably would have read that series first.
I am looking forward to reading the next book in the series, Rome: The Coming of the King, to see what happens to my favourite characters and what trials they come up against next.