Imperium (Cicero #1) by Robert Harris


Another Sunday, another book review. Some of you may remember me posting about what I was currently reading a few weeks ago. During exams I could only read dribs and drabs of this book (despite wanting to power through the whole thing), but as soon as my exams were over I sat down with a cup of coffee and read the second half of this book.

If you are unfamiliar with this book or what it is about, here is a brief synopsis:

When Tiro, the confidential secretary (and slave) of a Roman senator, opens the door to a terrified stranger on a cold November morning, he sets in motion a chain of events that will eventually propel his master into one of the most suspenseful courtroom dramas in history. The stranger is a Sicilian, a victim of the island’s corrupt Roman governor, Verres. The senator is Marcus Cicero — an ambitious young lawyer and spellbinding orator, who at the age of twenty-seven is determined to attainimperium — supreme power in the state.

Of all the great figures of the Roman world, none was more fascinating or charismatic than Cicero. And Tiro — the inventor of shorthand and author of numerous books, including a celebrated biography of his master (which was lost in the Dark Ages) — was always by his side.

Compellingly written in Tiro’s voice, Imperium is the re-creation of his vanished masterpiece, recounting in vivid detail the story of Cicero’s quest for glory, competing with some of the most powerful and intimidating figures of his — or any other — age: Pompey, Caesar, Crassus, and the many other powerful Romans who changed history.

Robert Harris, the world’s master of innovative historical fiction, lures us into a violent, treacherous world of Roman politics at once exotically different from and yet startlingly similar to our own — a world of Senate intrigue and electoral corruption, special prosecutors and political adventurism — to describe how one clever, compassionate, devious, vulnerable man fought to reach the top.

This book was recommended to me by a great friend, and I can safely say it is up there as one of the best books I’ve read in 2016. Actually…it may be the top of the top! I loved it! I am not much of a reader of historical fiction, and in particular when real life events are fictionalised. I also should mention that before reading this book, I had no knowledge of Ancient Rome.  However, I found this book so captivating and thrilling.

Robert Harris’s account of Cicero’s journey from senator to consul in Ancient Rome is inspired and littered with real facts, speeches and events. This journey, is told from the perspective of Cicero’s slave, Tiro. The novel takes the form of Tiro looking back on his time with Cicero from his old age (he was thought to have lived to be roughly 100 years old). Tiro, we know to have been real as he is often mentioned in letters written by Cicero which were preserved. From his perspective, he recounts the events and the dramas of politics in the Roman Republic.

I thoroughly enjoyed reading from Tiro’s perspective, as I thought that, knowing Cicero as well as he did, and on a level that not many could say they knew him, it meant he could showcase Cicero in all his forms and paint him in an honest light. And rightly enough, Cicero is shown in all his forms; confident, vulnerable, selfish, passionate etc. Tiro provides an account which does not mask any of Cicero’s flaws, but it is still apparent his devotion to his master. Cicero, at points was not a very like-able character, but in my opinion, his determination and vulnerability were endearing.

I found also, that as Harris based so much of the story on actual events and existing information and speeches, the story almost tells itself. Harris lends his eloquent and captivating writing style to the already intriguing story of the savagery, corruption and drama of Ancient Rome. My only issue with this book, is that it took me a while to read as I was constantly looking up meanings of certain words pertaining to the structure of the political system, and names of figures that appeared in the novel at different times (I continued to get Crassus mixed up with Catulus until near the end of the novel). However, the frequent stopping to process what I was reading was useful as it meant I took my time with the story and could really engage myself in the world. Here are a few of my favourite descriptions and quotes from the book:

“I pictured his quick thoughts running ahead in the way that water runs along the cracks in a tiled floor – first onward, and then spreading to either side, blocked in one spot, advancing in another, widening and branching out.”

“So I followed him in, and was privileged to hear Anthiochus of Ascalon himself assert the three basic principles of stoicism- that virtue is sufficient for happiness, that nothing except virtue is good, and that the emotions are not to be trusted- three simple rules, which, if only men could follow them, would solve all the problems of the world.”

“And looking back on it, and trying to fix precisely what it was about him which made him so disconcerting, I think it was this: his indiscriminate and detached friendliness, which you knew would never waver or diminish even if he had just decided to have you killed.”

“By this time tomorrow, I remember thinking, the voting on the Field of Mars would be well underway, and we would probably know whether Cicero was to be consul or not, and in either event the sun would shine and in the autumn it would rain. I lingered in the Forum Boarium and watched the people buying their flowers and their fruit and all the rest of it, and wondered what it would be like not to have any interest in politics, but simply to live, as the poet has it, vita umbratilis, ‘a life in the shade’.

Overall, I loved this book. I found it fast paced and exciting. There are two more books in this series, and I can’t wait to read them. I have already started Lustrum! I would recommend these to anybody who enjoys a story they can really sink their teeth into.

I hope you guys enjoyed this book review. 🙂


6 thoughts on “Imperium (Cicero #1) by Robert Harris

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