So who is Henry Venmore-Rowland?
Henry Venmore-Rowland was born and bred in rural Suffolk. Aside from the occasional family holiday, often to Italy, his only escape from school and village life was in the pages of historical fiction. His fascination with military and political history, the kings and battles approach, somehow got him into Oxford to read Ancient & Modern History at St. John’s College. After dedicating so much time to reading grand tales of epic wars and political intrigue, trying his hand at writing such a story was always inevitable. The Last Caesar is his first novel. He lives in Suffolk.
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And what is “The Last Caesar” about?
AD 68. The tyrant emperor Nero has no son and no heir. Suddenly there’s the very real possibility that Rome might become a republic once more. But the ambitions of a few are about to bring corruption, chaos and untold bloodshed to the many. Among them is a hero of the campaign against Boudicca, Aulus Caecina Severus. Caught up in a conspiracy to overthrow Caesar’s dynasty, he commits treason, raises a rebellion, faces torture and intrigue – all supposedly for the good of Rome. The boundary between the good of Rome and self preservation is far from clear, and keeping to the dangerous path he’s chosen requires all Severus’ skills as a cunning soldier and increasingly deft politician. And so Severus looks back on the dark and dangerous time history knows as the Year of the Four Emperors, and the part he played – for good or ill – in plunging the mighty Roman empire into anarchy and civil war…
Review of the book:
This is a book I had been eagerly awaiting for, for a few months. The story is set in AD68 leading into AD69 the year of 4 Emperors an era the more you look at it the more amazed I am that it has not been written about. ” The Year of the Four Emperors was a year in the history of the Roman Empire, AD 69, in which four emperors ruled in a remarkable succession. These four emperors were Galba, Otho, Vitellius and Vespasian.” When ever you get a debut author there is always some trepidation in the purchase. Is this person good enough for my money, how does he stack up against the giants of the genre? is he the next Christian Cameron, Conn Iggulden, Ben Kane, Anthony Riches, Simon Scarrow, Douglas Jackson etc? All authors at the top of their game, but with unique differing styles. So how did Henry do?
I will admit that at first I was worried, the style is very modern, there are no pretences to Latin vernacular in the book, this is very much told for a modern audience by a modern writer, and I know this is going to jar with a section of the historical fiction buyers market.
The book quickly picks up its pace and the characters hit their stride very very fast. Its clear that the author knows his Romans and knows his locations. What you have to apply to the book is who wrote it, The author is 21, and wrote the majority at the age of 19, the list of established authors above are *cough* a little older *cough*. The age difference is apparent in the writing because this book is chock full of enthusiasm, a sort of breathless excitement at the subject and the era, and it soon comes across to the reader and sweeps you along with the plot.
I found Caecina not only a likeable main character but someone who I could personally relate too, Totavalas the slave, a character that I think will really come to the fore in the next book, I just wish he had been a little more in the slave mold, I don’t think he would have lasted long with many masters with his sardonic cocky attitude, but you have to accept these character types as part of the enthusiastic pace of the book and the writing slant of Henry Venmore-Rowland.
Is there some innocent naivety to the writing? Yes for me there was, but a naivety of the market its being sold to. This genre is littered with people who will crucify an author for the cover art (usually they have little input into the cover, this article from Gollancz gives some very interesting insight into the cover process http://www.gollancz.co.uk/2012/03/empire-of-the-saviours-cover-reveal-and-competition/ ) , they will also simply throw their arms in the air in mock / feigned and sometimes real disgust at the wrong buttons on a jacket, or a pilum being called a spear etc. Its a shame that so many readers cannot see the joy in a story well told with enthusiasm.
Henry’s writing will age and change and improve, how could it not, this is a person aged 21 at the start of a great and I hope long writing journey. Think on this, how many of the great authors named earlier were published at such a young age? None, and their books get better and better as they spend time in the writing world, learning from the editor and the fans and their peers, and become more widely traveled and life experienced, I’m a big believer in the ” A man is literally what he thinks, his character being the complete sum of all his thoughts”: King James bible, the more we age the deeper and more rounded the thoughts.
This book and the writing style is fresh, it felt like a blending of Historical Fiction and Action Thriller, both genres I love to read. It is one of those books that gives you hope in the future of the genre, if the publishing world can keep discovering talent like this then we shall never lack for great books and great stories.
So the big question, Do I recommend this book, should you part with your hard earned cash?
Yes, very much recommended, We need to support new talent and as readers review and feedback and help this great talent grow, do our part as the reader, and I’m sure the author and the publisher will do theirs and give us many more fantastic reads, especially from Henry.