Roman Blood is the first novel in Steven Saylor’s Roma Sub Rosa series. It was released in 1991. The novel takes place in Rome in the year 80 B.C. The main character is Gordianus the Finder who is something of a detective, but honestly, he’s quite a bit more like a busybody. He has earned a bit of a reputation for helping “lawyers” dig out the truth in criminal cases. In this novel, Gordianus is hired by the character Cicero, who represents the actual historical character. Cicero is defending Sextus Roscius who is accused of patricide. Real life Cicero wrote about this case.
In ancient Rome, there was a lot of sex, violence, and greed. There was also a love of civic pride and posturing. And there was an unofficial/official caste system – so there were slaves. If any of this is disturbing, you probably should not read this book. Saylor obviously knows his history and is a good writer. The more “ribald” sections were not necessarily graphic and detailed, but the reader is not kept in ignorant bliss, either. There is a scene early on, where Gordianus comes upon a slave having sex with the daughter of Sextus Roscius. And the daughter has been the subject of incest. (Thankfully, we are spared details of that.) However, this is a story about criminals in ancient Rome… this stuff happened. So man up and read onward or toss the novel aside. Ultimately, this book is hardly more graphic and disturbing than anything on TV currently, so the majority of readers should not feign shock.
The storyline is pretty long. There are a number of mystery novel misdirects, but usually it just seems that Gordianus is not very good at his job. In fact, while Gordianus does a lot of footwork in the employ of Cicero, he does not really get to the truth of the matter any sooner than anyone else. Nevertheless, it’s amusing and interesting to tag along with Gordianus as he interviews country folk, citizens, politicians, whores, and lawyers.
Cicero is supposed to be THE Cicero. But I disliked the Cicero in this book immensely. He’s really not what I, after all of my history studies, want him to be. So I just pretend that this is some other Cicero in Rome. As a reader, once I could do that, novel-Cicero did not bug me as much at all. Readers who are devotees of Cicero and fancy him a hero might not want to read a book that does not present Cicero as an awesome guy.
The reader meets Sulla and Cicero and a whole cast of people that make up most of the facets of Rome’s populace. Sometimes it seems that Saylor just wants to run us around the city meeting people and introducing us to Roman life. While the plot struggles a little, due to sluggishness, it’s worth the effort because Saylor makes the characters we meet interesting and fairly representative of Rome. Overall, I was pleased with the book and am going to continue onward in the series.