Book Review: Steven Saylor’s Roman Blood

Posted May 21, 2013 by Kathy Davie in

I received this book for free from in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

Book Review: Steven Saylor’s Roman Blood

Roman Blood

in Hardcover edition on April 15, 2008 and has 387 pages.

Explore it on Goodreads or Amazon.

First in the Roma Sub Rosa ancient Roman mystery series featuring Gordianus, a disreputable Finder.

My Take

I seem to be in a very interesting rut! I keep reading novels that are set in the same places. I had just finished reading King’s Gambit (SPQR, I) by John Maddox Roberts which is set in ancient Rome, and here I am plunging into, yup, ancient Rome. With the same historic characters, but at an earlier time with Cicero and Sulla.

It’s a fascinating look from the average man’s perspective of a period in Roman history when the great generals were more interested in filling their treasure chests and placating their soldiers, when Sulla worked to ensure the stability of his dictatorship, and others suffered for his ambitions. The manner of law for that time is certainly enough to make me appreciate our current system! I am grateful to live today!

It’s a typical storyline that includes the investigator getting too close and being threatened with beatings and messages and death, chases and escapes, but it feels completely different when set in ancient times. It was fun to read and observe the parallels between then and now. Nothing much has changed in how man behaves.

I just love it! Saylor is so incredibly descriptive of the life in Rome. From the early waking to the crowds in the streets, the markets, the food, the, ahem, fragrances. He provides a sense of the Romans and how they live their daily lives.

Rome wakes with a self-satisfied stretching of the limbs and a deep inhalation, stimulating the lungs, quickening the pulse.

I enjoyed Saylor’s “info dump” — well-disguised as a walk through early morning Rome to Cicero’s house as Gordiano enjoys being alive and in Rome, appreciating the life around him, and having his own thoughts as well. The corruption is related as part of Gordiano’s considerations as he investigates, enlightening us as to the not-so-fabulous features of Roman life.

It was frustrating for Cicero and Gordiano to have young Sextus as a client; he was amazingly belligerent and uncooperative. Then when we learn more about his personal habits. Gag. I’d like to see him die for that!

It’s a great way to learn about the history of Rome — making it stick in a way that a schoolroom history class never could — although, the more formal study does round it out and include the a broader spectrum of cause-and-effect.! It’s all about the crazy politics, the patronage system, family life, career expectations, and the food and how one dined.

I can’t wait to read Arms of Nemesis!

The Story

It’s an unexpected start when Tiro finds Gordiano hungover, although he quickly impresses young Tiro with his powers of deduction.

Gordiano does his best to talk Cicero out of the case, but it’s a deep game with a challenge that Gordiano can’t resist: a man wrongly arrested for murder, and no one interested in the truth.

The Characters

Gordianus is a Finder — an investigator — who lives on the Esquiline Hill and is shunned by almost everyone. Bethesda is his young slave with whom he appears to be in love. She’s a cheeky little thing. Bast is Bethesda’s beloved cat.

Marcus Tullius Cicero is a young lawyer just starting out and needs to win this case that no one else will touch. His family has wealth though and he lives on the Capitoline. Tiro is his educated slave (he’s in King’s Gambit as well) who works as Cicero’s secretary. Marcus Tullius Tiro is young Tiro’s grandfather, freed by Cicero, and he acts as doorkeeper. Marcus Messalla, a.k.a., Rufus, is sixteen; his sister, Valeria, is Sulla’s fifth wife.

Caecilia Metella is Cicero’s aunt and was best friends with the murdered man. And she’s a bit of a nutcase. Ahausarus is a eunuch, and I don’t know if he’s dim or just very clever.

Quintus Hortensius is the greatest lawyer in Rome, Rufus’s brother, and Valeria’s half-brother.

Sextus Roscius is a middle-aged farmer in Ameria, running it for his father, Sextus Roscius. Gaius Roscius is a much younger, beautiful, son who was poisoned some years ago. Chrestus and Felix were Sextus the Elder’s slave bodyguards who were with him that fatal night. Big Roscia and Little Roscia are Sextus the Younger’s daughters — a weird Roman habit of naming daughters by the father’s surname and the order in which they were born! Carus is one of the slaves on the farm.

Magnus and Capito are Sextus’ cousins; Mallius Galucia is a freed slave of theirs who is never far from his former master’s side.

Titus Megarus is Sextus’ supportive neighbor in Ameria. Lucius is his son, and he has three daughters — you can guess their names!

Varus is a Go-Between who owes Gordianus a favor. This particular favor is named Zoticus, and he’s to guard Gordianus’ house and Bethesda.

The House of Swans is a brothel that Sextus patronizes, for he’s in love with the pregnant Elena. Electra is an older whore with taste and skill. Polia is a terrified widow with an observant but deaf son, Eco.

I love it — Vespa for the name of a horse!

Gaius Erucius is a freedman with the shadiest law practice in Rome.

Lucius Cornelius Sulla has arranged to be elected dictator of Rome. Chrysogonus is a former slave of Sulla’s, who was freed in thanks. He’s really picked up the way of enriching oneself. Metrobius is a female impersonator and an old friend of Sulla’s.

Marcus Licinius Crassus is a wealthy Roman, and we’ll see how he manages to increase it. Seller beware…

The Rostra is a “high pedestal decorated with the beaks of captured ships, from which orators and advocates plead cases”.

The Cover and Title

The cover is RED. A night scene in ancient Rome at the very start of the story when the warehouse is burning up and people are fleeing.

The title is a declaration of honor, for Roman Blood could never stoop to patricide.

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