Review

Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome

by Robert Harris

CONSPIRATA is the second installment in Robert Harris’s
historical fiction trilogy about ancient Rome. As the book opens,
we meet the Roman orator and statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero, on
the eve of his inauguration as consul of Rome. Busy preparing his
speech, he is interrupted by an urgent message from the local
magistrate telling him he is needed at once. Answering the summons,
he finds himself staring at the body of a young boy who, from the
look of his wounds, has been scarified. Horrified by what he has
seen but knowing he needs to keep peace, he announces to the
gathering onlookers that it is not a sacrifice but a mere drowning.
Disturbed, he returns home to his speech, doing his best to put the
scene --- and what the boy’s death might mean for him and for
Rome --- out of his head.

Cicero’s consulship dawns, and soon after, enemies begin
to surface. He finds himself becoming more and more paranoid about
his fellow Senators and surrounds himself with bodyguards. He fears
an assignation attempt on his life and a takeover of Rome, but his
attempts to prosecute those he believes to be involved fail. He
gathers men around him and makes deals with others he despises to
save the republic and himself in the process. Shortly before his
consulship is to end, a plan to overtake Rome is thwarted, and
Cicero is honored as a hero and father of the Republic.

Not having the family lineage of the elite Roman families,
Cicero sets out to create the image for himself and in the process
begins friendships with rather dubious individuals. After his
consulship, Cicero no longer follows Senate life closely anymore,
but his enemies don’t stray far even as he distances himself
from the Senate. Busy writing his memoirs and himself into history
as one of the most brilliant Senators ever known to the Roman
people, Cicero gets pulled --- unwillingly and almost unknowingly
--- into the deadly intrigue seeping into the city.

Several factions begin plans to take over not only the Senate
but also Rome itself. A power struggle between the Roman General
Pompey the Great and Julius Caesar is short-lived until the two
align themselves and bring soldiers into the city, making it look
as if it’s been taken over --- all of this under the pretense
of protecting the citizens. Cicero, fearing once again for his life
with the new powers rising in Rome, finds himself in a precarious
situation with no options left but to abandon all he knows and
loves.

This story is told by Tiro, Cicero’s loyal servant and
secretary. Tiro’s recounting of the events and Cicero’s
actions feels almost factual as he is still playing the part of
secretary here. While Cicero is off creating his new history of
himself, Tiro gives the reader a different impression, one of a man
who has lost his way. It adds a nice touch and makes these dominant
figures feel human.

Harris manages to keep the suspense high throughout most of the
book, but there was one small thing that did bother me: the
language seems too modern. I’m not suggesting Latin would be
better, but some of the dialogue sounded as if my closest friends
were speaking and not ancient Roman figures. It pulled me out of
the story in a few places, although, in the end, it wasn’t
enough to ruin the book for me. If you like Roman history, Harris
does a good job of keeping your interest peaked.

Although the ending is wrapped up nicely, Harris does leave you
wanting more. There’s more than enough intrigue left in this
story for a third novel, and I expect fans will be wondering
what’s next for the famous orator.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on December 28, 2010

Conspirata: A Novel of Ancient Rome
by Robert Harris

  • Publication Date: February 2, 2010
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 352 pages
  • Publisher: Simon & Schuster
  • ISBN-10: 0743266102
  • ISBN-13: 9780743266109