The Venus Throw by Steven Saylor
Book Review by Flavius Valerius Constantinus
The Venus Throw is one of nine volumes in the Roma Sub Rosa series written by Steven Saylor. The exposition of The Venus Throw is set in mid-January 56 B.C. at mainly Rome. To those who know about it, that year was the year when Julius Caesar defeated the Veneti in the most decisive battle by naval action in the Battle of Gulf of Morbihan. Other events of the year 56 B.C. is tied nicely well into the novel.
Our main character is a certain man named Gordianus the Finder. His service is sought for by many because of his great reputation. Through his reputation and dealings, he quite often is involved in the political fray. His wife is a half-Jewish slave named Bethesda, belonging to him, that he married in a previous book and the product of their marriage is a child called Diana (Gordiana). Other characters that make this book of great interest are the Clodii gens(mainly featuring Clodia and Clodius) , Marcus Caelius Rufus, Catullus the poet, Cicero, Cassius Dio, Belbo, Meto, and Trygonian the Cybelen priest. Characters with no appearance but yet tie greatly into the plot are Caesar, Pompey, senators, and many others. All these characters are of great intrigue that makes the novel a true mystery novel.
The plot is really wonderful, it includes what every Romanophile would be interested in. The story starts out with two strange visitors to Rome in search of Gordianus. One is an ambassador, Dio, and the other Trygonian, an enauch priest. They come to ask Gordianus to help keep Dio alive, but Gordianus rejects because he knows that this request is impossible. Dio is murdered before the next day. But who would want to kill Dio and for what purpose? Thus, Gordianus ventures on a dangerous case that will involve politics, murder, scandals, poisoning, revenge, and sex. Can it get any better, certainly yes.
There are two main intrigue in this novel. One is when someone trys to poison Clodia. Clodia then accuses her former lover Marcus Caelius Rufus of trying to poison her. It results in a trial, well you know how it ends, with the Pro Caelio speech of Marcus Tullius Cicero, Marcus Caelius Rufus is acquitted. The second is about Roman interests in Aegyptus, which plays a huge reason in why Dio is murdered. So how does these two intrigues connect? Well you just have to read it and find out.
In terms of cultural and historal authenticity, it is portrayed really well. Everything that occurs in the plot is almost accurate that you can relate to Roman culture sensibly. Most interestingly about the book is the essence of a Roman family which the novel uses the family of Gordianus as a prime innovative example of the Roman household. But don't read into the Roman family stuff because the family of Gordianus can be easily compared to any other modern family. The reason why Saylor might not go into full detail about the Roman household is because that there may be too much complications with the other aspects of the story that has to be focused on.
All in all, this book rates five senators out of five senators, according to the Ursus system. This book is highly recommendable if one wants a Roman novel that can compare to the HBO Rome series, with the exception of the promiscuous sex. Throughout the whole book, there has never been on dull moment thanks to the strong plotline that runs smoothly while interesting at the same time. Remember these aspects: politics, murder, scandals, poisoning, revenge, sex, and others found in The Venus Throw will make your time.