The Servant of Aphrodite by Philip Matyszak
Book Review by Thomas A. Timmes
It takes an exceptional author to write an intriguing and suspenseful book like The Servant of Aphrodite. Professor Philip Matyszak (Maty) is definitely such an author. He possesses the necessary writing skills, intellectual brilliance, experience, and background to write a novel that is not only gripping, but also educational, and interesting. Since 2003 he has authored over twenty successful books.
The Servant of Aphrodite is a reflection of Maty’s extensive travel, interesting background, and in-depth knowledge of ancient Rome. He earned his Doctorate in Ancient History from St. John’s College, Oxford University, specializing in the history of Classical Greece, the Late Republic, and Early Imperial periods of Rome. Maty has personal military experience both as a conscript in Rhodesia and with the Territorial Army in Britain, and he was a journalist and full-time professor. Maty currently splits his time between writing at home in Canada's Monashee Mountains (British Columbia) and providing e-learning courses for Cambridge University's Institute of Continuing Education.
The storyline of The Servant of Aphrodite is built upon the aftermath of the Roman military disaster at Arausio in 105 BC and is a sequel to Maty’s earlier book The Gold of Tolosa. Lucius Panderius is the protagonist in both novels that also feature other notable historical personalities such as Consuls Caepio, Marius, and Sulla.
Panderius is back in Rome for the sequel, peacefully running his brothel, when he finds himself the target of an increasingly determined series of attempts on his life. Caepio, an aristocratic Commander at Arausio, wants him dead so that he cannot testify about the Battle of Arausio in which the Cimbri/Teutons destroyed 80,000 Legionaries and an equal number of auxiliaries and camp followers. (Arausio was Rome’s greatest military disaster surpassing even that of Cannae). Gaius Marius just wants Panderius dead for his own personal reasons. So Panderius’ enemies relentlessly pursue him in the law courts and dark alleys of Rome, (spoiler!) all attempts fail.
Panderius is the ancient equivalent of James Bond, fictional British Secret Service agent 007. Always two steps ahead of his attackers, he is able to handle whatever obstacles they throw at him. Readers, however, are unaware of Panderius’ planning until he springs his trap. It’s an exciting book that will keep you on the edge of your seat, and is so engaging, the pages fly by. Once I started reading, not even Florida’s balmy weather (don’t mean to rub it in) or a house full of Thanksgiving guests could keep me away.
Initially, I was slightly distracted by Maty use of single quotation marks to denote dialogue. A quick Internet search revealed that British English uses a single quotation mark rather than the double marks used in American English. On Occasion, I lost track of who was talking and had to reread the section to sort it out. I blame myself for this confusion because when the action heated up, so did my reading speed.
I was particularly intrigued with Maty’s detailed knowledge of the streets and buildings of ancient Rome. As he is the author of Ancient Rome on 5 Denarii a Day, I felt as if I were on a guided tour, one that Maty is well qualified to lead. The reader is introduced to the highly charged political scene in Rome, which Maty aptly dubs a “snake pit.” It appears that the Senate was comprised of competing factions who owed one another favors and supported their favorites while attempting to ruin their opponents. “Clients” of the powerful and wealthy did the dirty work and reaped favors in return. Panderius, a client of Sulla, was opposed by Caepio and Marius and thusly supported by Sulla. In return, Panderius did favors for Sulla. Somehow it all worked, and the Republic thrived.
Panderius boasts an astounding knowledge of ancient methods of food preparation, spices, wines, and culinary delicacies, which is deftly woven into the story. His high-end brothel/restaurant is frequented by the sons of wealthy Senators who are accustomed to the best food Rome has to offer. An inferior meal would ruin his reputation and business, so Panderius goes to extraordinary lengths to ensure his customers are served the finest cuisine, and the reader is privy to those discussions.
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The Servant of Aphrodite is a delightful, easy read book packed with excitement, unexpected twists and turns, and a guided tour of Second Century Rome and her gourmet fare. Matyszak can add me to his list of new fans!
Thomas A. Timmes is the author of the Legio XVII series. Tom earned military and civilian awards including the Medal for Exceptional Civilian Service, the Defense Superior Service Medal, Combat Infantryman’s Badge, holds a Master’s Degree in History, and is a member of the National History Honor Society. His newest book, Legio XVII: The Eagle Strikes, is due out this spring.