38 of 41 people found the following review helpful
on February 1, 2000
I have now read all five books in the Masters of Rome series, and this is the first time I gave one of the wonderful books in this series four stars. Although this book is pretty good, it is worse than the other four: "First Man in Rome", "The Grass Crown", "Caesar's Women", and "Caesar".
The main reason for this book falling short of the others is that it does not have a central character or characters. The characters in the forefront in this period are Sulla, Pompey the Great, Lucullus, Crassus, Sertorius, and Spartacus. Caesar, no matter how much the author wants to focus on him, does not have much to do. Instead of trying to tie him into the experiences of others, it would have been better to focus on Pompey and Crassus, for example, with Caesar lurking in the background. I think the greatest problem for the author is how to deal with the book after Sulla's death. "The Grass Crown", ended with Marius' death with stage now set for Sulla to take over. It was an appropriate ending but when Sulla retires and then dies in "Fortune's Favorites", the thread of the story begun in "The First Man in Rome" ends. So, McCullough came up with the theme of "fortune's favorites", which works OK but not well enough. Since she has to continue with the story after Sulla's death, a hodge-podge of characters and events abound. Caesar's exploits are interesting but they take attention away from the people who were actually doing something. As I said before, I feel that Pompey should have been in the center of the novel, with both Lucullus and Crassus vying with him to be the First Man in Rome. Pompey, at the start of the book, looked promising but his war in Spain against Sertorius is quite dry (I admit I do not like military campaigns but enjoyed them in "Caesar") and not enough is said about it. Everything that leads to his consulship is squashed into the last hundred pages or so and then all the credit and attention goes to Caesar. This is contrary to historical evidence and the point could have been made more subtly.
Another person who was emerging as a potential First Man in Rome is Lucullus. The author mentions his vices as well as his unwavering loyalty to Sulla, attachment to his brother, Varro Lucullus, and fairness, but it is not enough. The author barely scratches the surface of this complicated man and does not even go into details to describe his campaign against Mithradates, which made him a virtual god in the East.
I was eager to see how McCullough would handle Spartacus. I can't say that I am disappointed with the way she presented Spartacus' plight and origins, but I am disappointed that she painted a rather one-dimensional picture of him. I was surprised that she deemed Crassus a capable general. It was more likely that Crass was just lucky and Spartacus' army less numerous and well equipped than McCullough would like the readers to believe. This factor especially contradicts Crassus' military disasters later on in "Caesar". Again, giving all the credit of what Crassus did during his consulship and his cooperation with Pompey to Caesar is not well supported historically.
Caesar's adventures themselves, especially against the pirates and in Bithynia at the court of King Nicomedes, are interesting. I especially liked the description of his stay in Bithynia where for the first time in the series a human Caesar emerges. But soon enough, he becomes a demigod. According to McCullough, he basically controls what goes on in Rome and advises the consuls, very correctly, what to do and how to do it. It is hard to sympathize with someone who is so much better than anyone else. McCullough makes Caesar so patronizing and arrogant that no matter how many tragedies befall him later on in the book, I stopped sympathizing with him. The good news is that she returns him to the realm of the living in the next two books.
I was extremely disappointed with depictions of certain characters. Cinnilla, Caesar's wife, is non-existent. There is a mention of her here and there but she remains completely invisible. Perhaps that was her role in Caesar's life, still, there should have been a LOT more effort made on the author's part to describe her. Caesar's Aunt Julia is barely present throughout the novel so unless the reader read "The Grass Crown" it is hard to understand what she meant to Caesar. Metellus Pius "The Piglet" is an intriguing character but McCullough does not elaborate on the change in him during the time Pompey arrives in Spain. Something MUST have happened but McCullough is extremely vague about what it is.
Finally, a note on the Eastern kings. WHERE ARE THEY? In "First Man in Rome", McCullough spent at least part of the narrative on Jugurtha. In "The Grass Crown", there was extensive information on Mithradates and Tigranes. In "Fortune's Favorites", Mithradates and Tigranes are barely mentioned. Ptolemy Alexander, prior to his assuming the throne of Egypt, gets some attention but not enough is said about what occurred with his Queen Berenice. Mithradatis Nysa also gets some mention but her story is abruptly ended and not picked up later on. It would have made this book a lot more colorful if the view of the Eastern kings was presented.
I really liked this book but I am very passionate about these series and wish that "Fortune's Favorites" could live up to the rest of the series.
25 of 26 people found the following review helpful
on February 23, 2003
For the first time in this series we experience the charm and brilliance of its real subject, Caesar, close up and personal. As McCullough mentions, she has far more historical sources to work with now, and indeed the two new heroes were master propagandists. I enjoyed this book more than the first two. McCullough goes far toward weaving a totally convincing sense of patrician majesty and paternal authority in fortune-favored Roman lives like Caesar or Pompey the self-styled Great.
This is a transitional novel, covering the end of the Marius-Sulla conflict and the first stirrings of the rivalry between Pompey and Caesar. The "problem" with such books is aggravated because McCullough is hewing so close to history rather than inventing characters and episodes that will lead to some great climax after 900 pages. While McCullough's prose is skillful it does not soar, and the reader does need to work hard to keep track of the parallel stories taking place on a jiggered timeline in Italy, Spain, or Anatolia.
This volume begins with a 21 pp synopsis of the preceding two books, vital to understanding the long list of characters who pop in and out (many of whom bear very similar names due to Roman naming customs; geneological charts might have been a useful addition to keep them straight). McCullough's steadfast focus is elite politics and strategy: no vignettes of life in the legions, among the urban plebs, or on Latin farms. On the other hand, her 80 pp Glossary is a frank mine of information entertainingly supplied that supplements her earlier glossaries. Drawings of the main characters enliven the text. Have a magnifying glass handy if you read the paperback, for the many maps are microscopic.
13 of 13 people found the following review helpful
on October 26, 2005
Ms McCullough has done a profound historical research in order to write her "Roman Saga" started with "The First Man in Rome" (1990), continued with "The Grass Crown" (1991) and "Fortune's Favorites" (1993).
She delivers an accurate picture of the late Roman Republic, bringing to life historically characters with amazing detail.
The author follows and reveals step by step all the intricacies of that rich and complex era.
Does this mean that the book is boring? By no means, Ms McCullough is able to show daily life, dressing, feeding, religious rituals, political and social structures in a magnificent fresco and at the same time construct an engaging story that will trap the reader for hours, even when this is the weakest of the three volumes.
The story starts in the year 83 BC after Marius' death, with an aged and ailing Sulla back in Italy, defeating methodologically Marius' heirs in his way to Rome.
Three new characters fully emerge in this volume: Pompeius Magnus, Julius Caesar and Marcus Crassus. This trio will rock the Republic in the nearing years, but at this stage they are just beginning their unstoppable rise.
One of the wonderful traits of Ms McCullough is that she extrapolates and gives wonderful explanations to odd issues as why Spartacus and his throng of followers traverse almost all the Italic Peninsula and then suddenly turn back.
She also proposes an earlier relationship between Crassus and Caesar and this last character acquiring a fundamental status as diplomatic mediator in Crassus-Pompeius association.
Last but not least the author has drawn beautiful busts of the main characters; detailed maps of different ancient scenarios where action takes place and very complete glossary.
I recommend reading the first volumes of the series, but even if you don't do it, you will no be at loss as the author gives a succinct résumé of the first two books.
I strongly recommend this book to any serious history aficionado!
Reviewed by Max Yofre.
11 of 11 people found the following review helpful
on December 17, 1999
A wonderful piece of fiction, although it lacks the structure and form 'The First man in Rome' and 'The Grass crown' had. Read the beginning of 'Fortune's Favorites', then the end, and it's next to impossible to make a link between them - it's more a record of historical events than a story - but nonetheless, historical events wonderfully written. Surprisingly, there was little emphasis on the rise of the career of Pompey the Great, considering these years were 'his' if they were anybody's, this is rather puzzling. It seems that the first part of the book is exclusively Sulla's, the second part is Caesar's and anyone else is an afterthought. McCullough also has strong opinions about the 'bad' and the 'good' - throughout, it is clear who she 'likes and dislikes,' as it were. The book is undeniably worth reading, but is very much caught in the middle. 'The First Man in Rome' and 'The Grass Crown' deal with the first direct threats to the Republic, the latter two books with the last threats, and Fortune's Favorites seems to have trouble deciding which way to lean. McCullough does not hesitate in setting the stage for 'Caesar's Women' - it is amusing to read of the mischevious children - Clodius, Antony, Brutus - in this book later becoming the young men who terrified the city, and eventually being destined for different - if horrid - ends. An excellent read, but one that you would have to use every once of concentration for in order to fully understand. I must confess that for my own part, I find the first two and latter two superior.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on December 28, 2005
FORTUNE'S FAVORITES is Colleen McCollough's third novel in her Rome series, and I believe her best so far. The great characters of Roman history are assembling and she breathes live into them as only a novelist of her skill can. The Rome series is based upon the work of the ancients including Plutarch, Seutonius and others; although she is true to her historical roots she also introduces some theories of her own that have a degree of plausiblity.
The book covers twelve years of Roman history and begins with Sulla's return from exile to lead his forces against those of his former patron and mentor the late Gauis Marius. Upon winning this civil war, Sulla is named Dictator with total control. He purges Rome of the pro Marius senators and collaborators and begins to single-handedly reestablish and remake the Republic; completing this work he leaves public life. He's given Rome a last chance but the seeds of empire have been planted, ironically by him, and will take root under his successors.
Julius Caesar was introduced in the previous novel, THE GRASS CROWN, but only as a child. In this book his character is developed and his intelligence, courage and political abilities are shown. These are the traits that he will use to create the Empire and reshape Rome. Caesar believes he is truly one of Fortune's Favorites. Pompey the Great, another Favorite and Caesar's future adversary also plays a prominent role, older by about ten years his career has been on a "fast track" with his military genius, wealth and connections. Cicero, a minor player in her second book, has developed into one of Rome's most notable lawyers and orators. Spartacus' rebellion of the slaves occurs during this period and provides a glimpse of gladiator and slave life and the consequences of defying Roman power.
McCullough's novels introduce numerous characters, and at times it is difficult to keep up with them as well as her use of Latin. She does include a glossary, illustrations and maps of the areas where battles are fought and the locations of cities and states that haven't existed for centuries and these help.
This book is exciting, full of intrigue, with a cast that are only read about in history books or seen in a Hollywood rendition. The book can be read as a "stand alone" novel; and she includes synopses of the first two prior to beginning this one; but having read the previous two I would recommend that approach. I found once I started FORTUNE'S FAVORITES it was very difficult to put down.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on April 3, 2005
Fortune's Favorites is the fifth book I have read in McCullough's series on ancient Rome. I have not read the books in order which in no way has interfered with my enjoyment of them!
It would be fun to see Colleen match her knowledge of ancient
Rome against a faculty of classical studies. I would imagine the Australian lady would do quite well!
Her research is well done as she unfolds for the reader the last years of the Roman Republic in the first century before Christ.
I found this volume in the series to be one of the best!
She describes in great detail the dictatorship of Sulla; the rise to fame of Julius Caesar as well as the usual political intrigue, romance and violence which were endemic in Roman
culture.McCullough books have more people in them than are in the typical telephone book! her prose is mostly pedestrian and
undistinguished but there are rewards for the patient reader!
These books are complexly plotted but what they tell us about Rome will stick in the mind of the reader for a long time to
I have been hooked by them and would recommend them to a person
eager to spend the time and energy to wade through them.
5 of 5 people found the following review helpful
on August 27, 2000
Right off, I have to say this wasn't my favorite in the (to date) five-book McCullough Roman series, and I think this is due to its position as the middle volume. So instead of the joy of the first two, and the deep characterizations of the latter two, this book just kind of sits around, wanting to be loved but not quite making it. Sulla is decrepit and old, Pompey bursts on to the scene, Crassus turns up, and Cinna, Carbo, and Young Marius are put away. Still, there is always good research from Colleen, so don't, by any means, bypass this baby, as it does figure prominently in the reasons for the fall of the Roman republic, which is, after all, what the author has been writing about. The ambitions of Marius, Sulla, Pompey, Crassus, and Caesar, in that order, make for good reading, and a lesson that once broken, the republic could only lead to an eventual empire (gosh, sounds familiar doesn't it). I'm nitpicking on this book, but still worth at least 3 stars.
8 of 10 people found the following review helpful
on December 27, 2003
Fortune's Favorites is definitely the weak link in McCullough's Masters of Rome series. That is not because it is a *bad* book; it is, in fact, quite good. However, it lacks the direction and focus of the other books of the series.
Fortune's Favorites begins with Sulla's return to Italy from the East, and ends with Pompey's and Crassus' first "retirement" in 69 B.C. In between, we're presented with Sulla's dictatorship and debauched death, Sertorius' guerrilla warfare in Spain, the Spartacus revolt, and lots of minor incidents too many to mention. The focus constantly jumps around from Sulla, to Pompey, Caesar, Cicero, Spartacus, and a dozen lesser lights.
As usual, McCullough gives us her own spins on history, spins that are entirely her own yet pleasingly plausible. Here, McCullough takes advantage of the lack of information about Caesar's early career to team him up with Crassus years before the Cataline conspiracy. She has Crassus select Caesar as an aid against Spartacus - and why wouldn't Caesar have been involved in the putting down of the revolt? From Caesar's association with Crassus comes his role as go-between between Crassus and Pompey. Again, we know historically that Crassus and Pompey, bitter rivals, reached a rapprochement in 70 B.C. - why wouldn't have been Caesar who arranged it? A simple, yet brilliant conceit that beautifully sets the stage for the First Triumvirate.
Those who are on the fence about reading this one, be warned that at times McCullough tries to write a history book. There are endless pages of Sulla expostulating about his reforms, and still more endless pages about efforts to destroy them. The prose is, as always, dry and uninspired. But the overall concept is brilliant, and McCullough beautifully fleshes out Caesar's youth, Pompey's rise, and the rapidly growing decay of the Senate. Those who enjoyed the first two books in the series should absolutely continue on.
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on October 29, 2002
I am currently doing my Masters degree specialising in the Romans, and I genuinely feel that McCullough has a truly remarkable gift for transporting her readers back to ancient Rome, yet not in such a way as to alienate the characters. Rather, they come from the pages in such a way as to captivate one's interest and have us laughing and at other times crying. Her writing style is simply breathtaking at certain places in the novel, Sulla's death being the one that immesdiately springs to mind. And despite the cold ferocity of it, I enjoyed her account of Sulla's dictatorship. At many other places in the novel there are scenes that stay in the reader's mind long after the book has been put down, and this set against a beautifully described ancient Rome from the point of view of one inhabiting there. Superb!
So, why didn't I give this novel the full five stars? Well, few things are perfect and I did have some quibbles with this novel. Firstly, the introduction to young Caesar throws McCullough's original genius off course a little. If we look at some of the characters she has previously dealt with, they are wonderful because they are so human. I loved one scene in this book where Pompey the Great is so eager to meet his third wife that he runs to her home, knocking everyone he encounters over with the smell of fresh roses! There is none of this delightfully human charm in Caesar. He is dignified, cool, calm, heart-breakingly handsome, wonderfully intelligent, in possesion of great wit, ect. And as Caesar grows, the other characters diminish. I don't say this lightly. As soon as McCullough begins to concentrate on Caesar we see other characters reduced to gibbering idiots in the face of his genius. And all I can think is, What a shame! As I can understand her reasons for wanting to concentrate on him but it's becoming more like a Caesar biography than fiction. This is a very irritating factor in the last two books, as this becomes far more marked.
Another quibble I had with the novel was quite simply that I didn't like some of the characters. If Caesar was the greatest general, give him his due - but poor, poor Cicero! He gets a very rough deal here! As do Pompey and Young Marius. Was this really nessecary?
One thing that was very good about the book is the way that McCullough starts to prepare the stage for 'Caesar's Women.' We are given some early insights into Servilia and Brutus, both very important characters. Caesar's friendship with Crassus is explained here, as is his hatred of Bibulus. McCullough also lets us peep at a young Mark Antony, in a rather bizarre scene where Caesar takes a swing at the child's behind! Funny to think this child would one day become Caesar's leutenent! The character of Caesar's Aunt Julia is lovely as well.
One final word: I agree with the people below who have said the cover for the book is appalling! It is tacky and horrible and gives no credit to the wonders of this novel or to the bookshelf. I mention this in the vain hope that someone with influence somewhere will see this and change it. If you are reading this, employ an artist. Please!
3 of 3 people found the following review helpful
on April 18, 2002
For some reason McCullough skipped over Sulla's Eastern campaigns. I don't understand why as the Grass Crown had so much Mithridates in it that you would expect him to be a major figure in this book. But he just kind of disappears, and we get very little describing Sulla's efforts in breaking his power.
I think if the book had stayed with Sulla's story, subordinating the other characters (Pompey & Caesar especially) to this story the book would have felt much less "disjointed" as other reviewers have noticed. It almost feels like McCullough ran out of Sulla material to finish the novel. We get a great deal of detail about his early life, his rise to power, his struggles with the Marians, and his eventual ascendency to the dictatorship (essentially making him Rome's first Emperor) in "First Man in Rome" and "The Grass Crown." There was every reason to expect that "Fortune's Favorites" would continue with his story. But...he vanishes into the East to return a shrivelled old man. Huh?
Maybe there's a lack of information about his campaigns and his "divde the world" deal with Mithridates. Sulla's autobiography has unfortunately been lost. It would have made great reading. This may explain the odd gap in McCullough's Master of Rome books which up until this installment seem to have been a fairly continuous history of the late Roman Republic.
Crassus, Pompey, Lucullus, Casear and their various struggles to become the next Sulla would have made great reading for the fourth book, here they detract from Sulla's story. As soon as Caesar takes the stage, everyone else is eclipsed. Sulla, whose late career was complex enough to carry this entire novel, should have been the star. If this book had stretched itself out enough to cover the Eastern campaigns, given us a bit more Lucullus, and ended with Sulla's death, it would have claimed the fifth star given to the previous two.
Thank god there appears to be a new cover! I could never understand why they didn't just get the same guy who did First Man and Grass Crown. Those covers were visually stunning. Fortune's Favorites' was a bad joke. A sword and a rose?
Did somebody die in the Art Dept?
Anyway, more Sulla, less everybody else. Of all the major characters in Masters of Rome (and there's a lot of them) Sulla is by far the most fully realized. So why skip over his Greek campaign? The siege of Athens alone could have carried a quarter of the book. And who wasn't looking forward to the showdown between Rome and Mithridates that McCullough had been building up to for so long? So where is it? Maybe on the Extended edition.
Had this book kept its focus, and been called "Sulla, the Dictator" it probably would have been the best in the series. As it is, it's probably the worst. After Sulla dies, McCullough isn't able to get up to steam on any other plot thread. And as others have pointed out, it's just too early in history to start setting off the Caesar fireworks.
Ok, I forgot Lucullus. There should have been more of him too. A legendary Roman general who's a secret pedophile (ok, ephebophile, as he liked little girls) and who ends his career as a drugged-out wreck. Bound to be a good story there. At least a better one than skipping hither and thither between Caesar, Pompey, Crassus, and god knows who else.