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The October Horse : A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra Hardcover – November 26, 2002

116 customer reviews

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Editorial Reviews

From Publishers Weekly

Caesar may be the nominal protagonist of this last novel in a series of six chronicling the demise of the Roman Republic, but the presiding spirit is that of Octavian (later Augustus), Caesar's successor and Rome's first emperor. McCullough's Octavian is as complex and gifted as her Caesar, but far less moral, just or merciful-a fitting ruler for a Rome grown too unwieldy for republican government. Blessed with the same immediacy and breezy style that made the tumultuous first century B.C. come alive in previous volumes (The First Man of Rome; Caesar: Let the Dice Fly; etc.), McCullough's heady novel begins with Caesar as dictator of Rome. Brilliant, ruthless, ascetic in his habits and devoted to the welfare of Rome, he enacts a series of reforms while consolidating his power and fathering a son with Cleopatra. The Egyptian, here portrayed as spoiled and shortsighted but passionately in love with Caesar, is just one in a panoply of richly imagined characters: Cato, obdurate republican and traditionalist; Mark Antony, a crass brute with a streak of animal cunning; decent Brutus, batted between his mother, the poisonous Servilia, and Porcia, his vengeful wife. Caesar is a bit too perfect in McCullough's telling, and Antony too monstrous; the novel also suffers from a sameness of voice throughout. But the skillfulness of McCullough's portrait of Octavian will make readers wish more novels were in the offing. Introduced as a guarded, talented youth, he is transformed by Caesar's assassination into a merciless, retributive man-or perhaps he simply shows his true colors. The book ends in a dark blaze of vengeance with his pursuit and destruction of Caesar's assassins.
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

From Library Journal

"Men who are doers can also be thinkers, but the thinking is done on the move, in the midst of events." This line typifies McCullough's vision of Julius Caesar as a man more charismatic, more intelligent, more visionary, and more dynamic than any other in history. Scholars have both lauded Caesar for his military genius, which has often been emulated but never duplicated, and reviled him for single-handedly destroying the Roman Republic and subjugating far-flung lands, and the author stresses that dichotomy here. In this sixth and final entry of her Roman series, McCullough boldly depicts the demise of the empire that Caesar worked so hard to create, closing with his heir, Octavius. This work probably won't be as immediately popular as The Thorn Birds, but it can definitely hold its own with the vast array of novels and nonfiction books on ancient Rome. Though some readers may find the sheer wealth of detail occasionally tedious, the book will find a niche among those who can appreciate the scholarship and research that contributed to recreating Caesar's remarkable career as dictator of Rome. Recommended for larger public libraries that own the rest of the series.
--Jane Baird, Anchorage Municipal Libs., AK
Copyright 2002 Reed Business Information, Inc.

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Product Details

  • Hardcover: 792 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster; 1st edition (November 26, 2002)
  • Language: English
  • ISBN-10: 0684853310
  • ISBN-13: 978-0684853314
  • Product Dimensions: 6.5 x 1.6 x 9.6 inches
  • Shipping Weight: 1.6 pounds
  • Average Customer Review: 4.3 out of 5 stars  See all reviews (116 customer reviews)
  • Amazon Best Sellers Rank: #306,441 in Books (See Top 100 in Books)

More About the Author

Colleen McCullough was born in Australia. A neuropathologist, she established the department of neurophysiology at the Royal North Shore Hospital in Sydney before working as a researcher and teacher at Yale Medical School for ten years. Her writing career began with the publication of Tim, followed by The Thorn Birds, a record-breaking international bestseller. She lives on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific with her husband, Ric Robinson.

Customer Reviews

Most Helpful Customer Reviews

72 of 75 people found the following review helpful By mrliteral VINE VOICE on January 10, 2003
Format: Hardcover Verified Purchase
In this, the final book of McCullogh's series on the last decades of the Roman Republic, the last days of Julius Caesar are chronicled along with the first days of his successor, Octavian. For fans of historical fiction, this is a must read, a six volume epic that is part history and part political soap opera.
For those unfamiliar with the series, the hero is definitely Julius Caesar. The first two books - The First Man In Rome and The Grass Crown - serve as an extended prologue, with Caesar born in the first book and in pre-adolesence in the second; nonetheless, the intrigues of Gaius Marius and Sulla keep those books quite interesting. Caesar's rise to power is described in the next three books, and at the beginning of the October Horse, he is at the peak of his power.
For those familiar at all with Roman history, how Caesar dies and even the exact date are well-known. McCullough describes the growing conspiracy and how the various figures are drawn in. The assassination is not the conclusion of the story, however. Instead, we see Caesar's adopted son take over and hunt down the conspirators, a good epilogue to this saga.
The fun part of this story is the intrigues among the various characters: the utopian Caesar, the brutish Antony, the deceptively ruthless Octavian, the weak but idealistic Brutus and many others. McCullough fills in the gaps in the historical record with great drama and makes this novel as great as her previous ones.
This book might be good on its own, but to do it justice, you must read the five predecessors; besides the two mentioned above, there is Fortune's Favorites, Caesar's Women and Caesar. That may seem like a lot of reading, but it's all good. In addition, if you enjoy this book, you can go on to read Robert Graves's books on the early days of the Empire: I, Claudius and Claudius the God. Reading all eight books in sequence would not only give you a great grasp of Roman history, it would also be a blast to read.
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90 of 98 people found the following review helpful By Newt Gingrich THE on March 10, 2004
Format: Hardcover
This is the culminating sixth volume of one of the most important historical novels of our generation. Beginning with "The First Man in Rome" and continuing through "The Grass Crown," "Fortune's Favorites," "Caesar's Women," "Caesar: Let The Dice Fly" and finally "The October Horse: A Novel of Caesar and Cleopatra", McCullough has carried us from just before Julius Caesar's birth on through the civil war following his death.

In this extraordinary series it is possible to see the crisis a hegemonic power faces whose political system is incapable of coping with the opportunities and threats which unparalleled power have brought to it.

The corruption and decay of the Roman Senate, the rise of outside interests seeking to bribe and corrupt Rome, the growing crisis for Italians as reactionary elements in Rome refuse to extend citizenship and the reversion of violence both in the street and with the Army all serve as sobering examples for modern citizens to contemplate as they watch the kaleidoscopic changes in our world and our times.

McCullough has the natural story teller's ability to surround big ideas with living, breathing, plotting, conniving, loving and hating people who remind us that politics and history are made by humans, not by anonymous trend lines.

In "The October Horse," Caesar is finishing the civil war against Pompey's forces (especially against Cato the Younger), developing a liaison and an alliance with Cleopatra in Egypt and returning to Rome to begin to reform the system until his enemies assassinate him in the Senate.
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19 of 20 people found the following review helpful By Suzanne Cross on December 2, 2002
Format: Hardcover
Colleen McCullough has entertained and educated millions to the intricacies of politics in the late Roman Republic, and her touch hasn't failed in this last and perhaps most difficult of her books. Caesar has illumined the series from its first book, although Marius, Sulla, and the robust characters of the early books rightly took center stage. Caesar is McCullough's conduit character through whose eyes and actions much of the collapse of the Republic occurs. Now she must deal with his murder. How to do this and yet keep the flow of the book going?
We all know what will happen on the Ides of March, but it's how to do it that presents the challenge. I thoroughly enjoyed how McCullough deals with every aspect of Caesar's last years. She handles his achievements and disappointments fairly and, interestingly, comes up with arguable explanations for many of Caesar's last actions which argue that he never intended, indeed, to become king, and does wonderfully drawing the various sordid and idealistic motives (more of the former than latter) which motivated the assassins. As usual, the plot is action-packed, the characters vivid and varied, and based upon substantial research into original historical sources. Caesar's murder is so well done that you almost forget how the action will end.
McCullough takes risks in her portrayal of several characters, but has enough understanding of the sources to back herself up. Cleopatra's character and her love affair with Caesar - which, during the Egyptian war, essentially takes up the first third of the book - is the antithesis of conventional Hollywood casting, but the Queen is far more compelling than any mere sex kitten. Caesar's motivations are similarly not romanticized. Brutus, Cassius, Decimus Brutus, Antony . . .
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