Roman Senator Marcus Brutus is a patriot, devoted to the Republic. Many of his days are spent actively working for the Republic, protecting the system he believes in. His main respite is the occasional trip to his country villa in the company of his dearest friend, and lover, Cassius. But his tireless work may not be enough, not when the consul Julius Caesar is taking more and more power to himself. When Cassius first proposes a drastic solution, Brutus rejects the idea, but as the months go by, it becomes ever more obvious that given enough time, Caesar will overthrow the Republic and make himself emperor.
I bought this because I love Sam’s fanfic, and expected him to do a good job of original fiction drawing on historical fact. I wasn’t disappointed. This is one of those novels where I think it can be enjoyed both by readers who know nothing about the historical characters, and by readers familiar with the historical story, or with Shakespeare’s play. There’s a solid story here that fleshes out the basic facts and brings Brutus to life as a real person, a decent, honorable man faced with a choice between evils. His decision is not a simple one, and is made over the course of months, as more and more evidence accumulates of what Rome’s future could be if Caesar is not reined in.
And it’s not just Brutus who’s brought to life here. There’s a good exploration of Cassius and his motives. In addition, there’s a brief but lovely portrait of Brutus’s wife Porcia, and a marriage that is a loving partnership and friendship, not just a useful front for a gay man. Along with the historical characters, there’s original character Tiresius, a teenage runaway taken on by Brutus as a horseboy. Tiresius has secrets to hide, but as Brutus discovers more about the boy’s troubled relationship with his father, it provides him with insight into his own troubled relationship with Caesar, a man who may or may not be his biological father. The interactions between the characters create a rich portrait of a situation where there is no easy right and wrong.
One of the problems with writing historical fiction is that historical people could have very different moral values and beliefs, often ones that don’t sit well with a modern reader. In trying to make a lead character synpathetic, it’s easy to slip into the trap of turning him or her into a twenty-first century person in fancy dress. This book does a superb job of presenting the characters in their proper context, with believable explanations for their attitudes and beliefs about various issues.
It’s not a romance, because it follows Marcus Brutus and his relationships with Cassius and others in the months leading up to the assassination of Julius Caesar, and anyone who’s familiar with either the history or Shakespeare’s play will know that Things Do Not End Well for the conspirators. But well researched as far as I can tell, beautifully written, and I’d recommend it to someone looking for historical fiction with an LGBT theme.