I very much enjoyed Sam Starbuck's addition to the Warriors of Rome Collection.
- Review by Kazza K
How to review The City War? While it is based on a time period, and a significant event in history - the death of Julius Caesar in 44BC on March 15th (the Ides of March) - there is a bit of poetic licence around the history of the time. It was necessary in order to tell the personal story/interpretation of Marcus Junius Brutus's life leading up to and including March 15th. This book does sit very nicely in the Warriors of Rome Collection. This time the book is set toward the latter period of the Roman Republic, prior to the time of the Roman Empire. This is an interesting fictional look inside Brutus's life and Rome.
As a very basic lead in - Marcus Brutus is a patrician, and a member of Caesar's Senate. He is a former military man, who actually fought for Pompey, against Caesar, during the civil war; until Pompey was defeated by Caesar. Brutus surrendered, asked for forgiveness, which Caesar granted, taking him into his inner sanctum. There was speculation that Caesar was Brutus's father as his mother, Servillia, had been Caesar's mistress.
When we begin The City War, Brutus is leaving the heat of Rome to have some downtime at his country home, or villa rustica. He has taken along his entourage; which includes his mentor and friend, Aristus. When he arrives he is meeting Cassius, who is his long-standing friend, lover and brother-in-law. Along the way to the villa a wayward youth, with a somewhat noble horse, points out the fact that Brutus's horses could look better, and he could be the one to do that job for him. Brutus is none-to-happy but also amused with his audacity and his youthful zeal. Not only that, for someone who seems to be of the servant class, this lad's horse is quality. So Brutus tells him to head along to the villa, await their arrival, and take care of their horses as they arrive. Brutus likes spirit, and it seems he likes to take on people needing employ. Porcia, Brutus's wife, and first cousin, I might add, never accompanies Brutus away, she likes life in Rome much more than the country. She also knows about Cassius and Brutus, and has no qualms with their relationship, so long as it is discreet. Likewise his sister, Junia, has the same arrangement with Cassius. It's Roman times, they were a somewhat incestuous lot. Cassius refuses to be intimate with Brutus in Rome, however,
outside Rome he has no problems being Brutus's dutiful lover.
While away, Cassius approaches Brutus letting it be known that he does not like the way Caesar has become all powerful and is making changes that take power away from Senator's like Brutus and Cassius, how there are grumblings from others as well. He wants to feel Brutus out about how Butus sees Rome and Caesar. Who will he side with? Initally Brutus is not happy about these conversations, but a letter arrives from Porcia, during his stay at the villa, tellling him of changes, that he should return to Rome poste haste to deal with the issues that are arising. Brutus likes being a Senator, more than he did a military man. He doesn't like the way things are shaping up and he doesn't like that politics can be like war - brutal, dirty, and bloody. He feels those things should best be left on the battlefield not in the city of Rome.
Cassius wants Brutus to step in and give his official nod to ridding Rome of Caesar, because his plan entails murder. If Brutus is involved Cassius is sure it will not be seen as traitorous, rather a necessary act, as Brutus is a popular man amongst other patricans and the general populace alike.If Brutus will join then others will follow, and he needs many for his plan.
I know in the official blurb it says - 'Brutus must return to Rome and choose between Cassius and Tiresias'- however this really isn't correct. There was never any choice made about one or the other. The book was about Brutus' life leading up to, during, and shortly after the murder of Julius Caesar. How Brutus was feeling, his growing realisation that the plan Cassius has devised is going to happen. It is also about his relationships - with Porcia, Cassius, and now Tireasis. It is also about his great depth of feelings for Rome.
The City War is well named given Brutus's thoughts about war and Rome. It is not full of action, it is not full of sex, it's fairly minimalist in that respect, but there is a slight kink to the story. The sexual relationship between Brutus and Tiresias, which only comes into play at the 85% mark, is nicely handled by Sam Starbuck. It's different and I wondered how he would handle it.
Although I understand why the book ends as abruptly as it does there will be some that may well be disappointed with that. Just know going in it's historical, there is no HEA or really a HFN, it doesn't end badly for Brutus, except he feels great emotions as to what has occured in regard to Caesar and also Cassius.
This book is on the slower side, but I thought the writing was strong, interesting, intelligent, and witty. There is a subtlenss to the writing, to the words. It doesn't make you laugh out loud, yet the dialogue can be incredibly amusing, it doesn't make you cringe away, but the murder of Caesar is quite powerfully relayed to the reader. I cannot imagine what it would have been like going in with a premeditated plan to kill someone you knew so well. Someone from your youth. It's also well written because Brutus, the MC, comes off as a likeable character, and I'm not sure how true this would have been of Brutus in reality, but it made for a nice piece of fiction.
The writing is purposeful, the style charming, quick-witted, and personable; it was difficult to dislike Brutus and his friends. The City War is not bogged down in too much history, but there is enough to make the book very interesting. I have never heard of Sam Starbuck before this book but I thoroughly enjoyed the laid-back quality to his writing here. Highly recommended for those that like M/M historical writing with Rome as the central theme.