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Fortune's Favorites (Masters of Rome) Mass Market Paperback – November 11, 2008
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From Library Journal
The third installment in McCullough's magnum opus (after The First Man in Rome , LJ 9/15/90, and The Grass Crown , Morrow, 1991) continues her chronicle of the decline of the Roman Republic and the impending rise of the Roman Empire. The novel's events are dominated by Sulla's return from exile and subsequent installation as Rome's first dictator in almost 200 years; Pompey the Great's machinations as the wealthy provincial, which clears his own path upward through Roman politics; and the maturing of Gaius Julius Caesar, who will ultimately set Rome upon it's imperial course. These three are "Fortune's favorites." Painstakingly researched, McCullough's Roman saga is like a trip through time. Her characters come to life as do their surroundings. While giving us rollicking good fiction, McCullough has also made clear the bribery and chicanery that made up Roman politics. She has given us clear insight into how Rome found itself changing from a republic to an empire. Highly recommended.
- Steven Sussman, "Library Journal"
Copyright 1993 Reed Business Information, Inc. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
From Kirkus Reviews
In her third majestic tale of Rome (83-69 B.C.), McCullough spotlights three mighty beings and the frictive sparks from their occasional interactions: Sulla, Dictator of Rome, whose early career was chronicled in The First Man in Rome (1990) and The Grass Crown (1991); the military juggernaut Pompey; and the great Julius Caesar, ``the greatest prime mover of them all.'' Again, McCullough brings order to the mighty tangle of battles and political strategies of ancient heavyweights--in the Forum Romanum or in the tents of war. Sulla, his early beauty gone, scabrous, toothless, and given to bouts with the wineskin, takes over Rome as Dictator, issues a blizzard of new laws returning rule to the patricians (landed aristocrats), and banishes all masks and effigies of his old partner and foe, the late Gaius Marius (The First Man in Rome). Sulla will tolerate the contributions of Pompey, who insists on being called ``Magnus'' and has a child's temperament (``He could never be a danger to the Republic,'' says Caesar). Among those opposing Sulla is Young Marius (son of Gaius Marius), whose head will join others of Sulla's enemies on poles by the Senate. Working for ``order and method,'' Sulla labors for Rome and thereby his ``dignitas'' (``his personal impressiveness''--the only triumph over death). His job done, Sulla makes a shocking exit and has a last laugh. Meanwhile, Julius Caesar, finally relieved of a hated role as priest, embarks on a series of extraordinary military and diplomatic coups, but quietly, correct in hierarchical obligations, stunning in charm, intelligence and beauty--and patient. Like other authors of popular Roman historical fiction, McCullough must reconcile those civil, gossipy, sophisticated makers and doers with acts of bizarre cruelty (the Spartacus slave revolt featured over 6,000 crucifixions along a major highway). But the author's fidelity to sources, her witty glossary, and strong narration offer some firm ground and exciting speculation. (Maps and illustrations) (Literary Guild Dual Selection for January; First printing of 100,000) -- Copyright ©1993, Kirkus Associates, LP. All rights reserved. --This text refers to an out of print or unavailable edition of this title.
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Top customer reviews
DON'T BUY THE PAPERBACK!!
After reading this book I was amazed at the positive light in which she views Sulla. Her portrait of Sulla is quite sympathetic and she manages to put all the blame on his freedman, Chrysogonus, and pictures the freedman's death off the Tarpeian rock as an example of Sulla's integrity. There is no doubt that Sulla can be blamed for putting corrupt associated in charge of the proscriptions but I think she excused the proscriptions because of her positive view of Sulla.
However, for a series of books which intend to elevate Julius Caesar, the portrait of him in this book presents him in a very negative light. I came away with understanding why Caesar was assassinated in 44 BC, but more importantly why it didn't happen soon. She presents the youthful Caesar as an arrogant, self-centered, selfish person.
Also I thought too much time was spent with Caesar in Bithynia and I found all that part of the book rather boring and too much a creation of the author and not based sufficient on the facts. I admit facts are scarce about this early part of Caesar's life, but I think the author embroidered them a bit too much for my taste.
Her portrait of Pompey as a buffoon is bit over the top. His popularity in Rome was due to real accomplishments not showmanship - although he was a master at that. But he had solid military skill which get belittled in order to increase the author's positive view of Metellus Pius.
Still this is good addition to the series and well worth the read.
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.