An Audiobook Review: All My Children – Roman Holiday Edition


Empire: The Novel of Imperial Rome

By Steven Saylor

Published by Macmillan Audio

Read by James Langton


The Book:

Empire is the continuation of the story that started in Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome, following members of the Pinarius family. The Pinarii were the owners of a strange and ancient talisman, a fascinus, that was originally shaped like a winged phallus, but through centuries of wear came to look vaguely like a cross.

In the Roman religion, a fascinus was the embodiment of one of their oldest gods who represented the regenerative power. The fascinus was a very common symbol and it was frequently used to avert envy (invidia) and the evil eye. The vestal Virgins would place a fasacinum underneath the chariot of a triumphant general I order to protect him from the envious.

The fascinus of the PInarii, however, is supposedly the original fascinus, the first one ever made, handed down to one member of each generation, and so the fascinus is used here to hold the collection of stories together into an entire novel spanning the time of the Roman Empire from the reign of Augustus to that of Hadrian.

The first section seems like a rewrite of Robert Graves’ I. Claudius  and Claudius the God, or perhaps to be more accurate is seems like a collection of chapters that somehow got cut out of those two books, but I think that since we are dealing with a patrician family, related to the Imperial family, that might have been hard to avoid. Anyone who has read I, Claudius or seen the mini-series, for that matter, or studied Roman history will know where a lot of the story is going. It becomes interesting when we deal with the Pinarii themselves, however.

The Pinarii were the second of two families throughout most of Saylor’s previous book, but with the decline and extinction of the Potitii line, the Piinarii continue on as a prominent patrician family. Both the Potitii and Pinarii were actual Roman families and many of the persons depicted in Saylor’s work actually existed, including the Lucius Pinarius who was a grand-nephew and heir of Julius Caesar.  However, like many families of the period the Pinarii go through a number of ups and downs through the period of the early Caesars and yet somehow they manage to survive.

The book, like Roma, is not really a novel, but more a series of vignettes and short stories involving several generations of Pinarii over the course of roughly one hundred thirty-eight years. It is every bit as episodic as  Roma and just as in the first book, I found myself wanting to know more about some of the character and not being as interested in others. However, for those whose notions of Roman history end with the late Republic or, at most, the death of Claudius, this is an interesting peek at the Empire at its height. I prefer Saylor’s Roma sub Rosa series, with the possible except of The Seven Wonders, but this is more due to my preference for a single long story over a collection of shorter ones. I realize that many other author4s have used this technique to tell a story that spans centuries, but I have to admit that I have not generally enjoyed most of them either. Give me a single, well-constructed story to get into and not an anthology collected on a single theme.

Still, if you have enjoyed Saylor’s other stories, you will likely enjoy this book too. I did.


The Audiobook:

James Langton delivered a polished and professional performance of this book. He is easy to listen to and delineates each character well. My only complaint is in the Americanized pronunciations of various Roman names and Latin words. Maybe I learned them wrong, or maybe not, but the differences in what I expected and what I heard were a bit jarring. However, Mister Langton’ reading kept me listening and I was able to dismiss the discrepancies between his pronunciations and my expectations easily enough.

So, the book is a collection of stories concerning members of a single family during the early Roman Empire. Except for the fascinus, the stories are not well connected, but together they paint of picture of the still rising Roman Empire in an entertaining form. Mister Langton’s reading will keep you listening even through those few part that drag a bit. Worth listening to!



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4 Responses to An Audiobook Review: All My Children – Roman Holiday Edition

  1. Susie Schroeder says:

    Jonathan, I have read three or more of the [i]Roma Sub Rosa[/i] and found them enjoyable, especially the one about Clodius, Clodia, and Cataline. It’s funny, isn’t it that some Romans names have been Anglicized (Pompey, Cataline, Mark Antony) I guess because of Shakespeare, but he din’t Anglicize Brutus or Cassius. Nor Clodius, if Old Bill even knew of the man’s existence. Like you, I prefer a novel to an anthology. I have tried reading those collections in the 1632 series, but, again like you, I would have liked to know more about some of them and was not much interested in the others. If I am going to read a Roman novel though, I much prefer Lindsey Davis’ Falco series. Funnily enough, I tried to read her [i]The Course of Honor,[/i] which we have in our library, but couldn’t finish it, though it contains character from the Falco novels.

    I talked about this with NF on the way home from work before I posted this, and she says the short story is a dying art. I wonder.

    • Susie,

      NF is probably right about the short story being a dying art. Certainly in a day when even children’s books (or at least teenagers’ books) like the Harry potter series can run over two inches thick, the publishers do not seem to be as anxious to bother with shorter works. I suppose I am not the one to truly mourn the loss, though as I am more comfortable writing novels than I am short stories. I have tried my hand at shorter works, especially some of the filler pieces associated with my Maiyim books, but even there most of them have been novelette and novella-length pieces. In fact I think the only real short stories I have written in recent years were a pair I wrote for Snakehead Games a while back.

      Very often short stories are merely elongated vignettes and I don’t think that is what they are supposed to be. The short story should tell a whole story about a single incident. It must have a beginning, a middle, and an end. Now I know that ought to be obvious, but many such don’t start so much as pick up I mid-action, while other don’t really have an ending, but instead just stop. And then there are those that never really go anywhere, which means there is no story or as Gertrude Stein said about Oakland, “There is no there there.” Never having been to Oakland, I can’t say whether that is still true or if it ever was, but about short stories that do not actually say anything… yeah. True enough.

      But I think somewhere out there is a talented writer who is a master of the short Story. I just don’t know who he or she is yet.

      • Susie Schroeder says:

        After listening to NF and reading your post, I tried to think of short stories I liked. I came up with “Incident at Owl Creek Bridge”, “The Gift of the Magi” and “The Ransom of Red Chief,”, and “Those Who Walk Away From Omelas”. The first three I read in school, and are from the late 19th and early 20th centuries. LeGuin’s story is modern, and I only read it because NF suggested it, because I liked the Wizard of Earthsea Novels. The first three are, as you describe them, tightly constructed and vividly descriptive, with a definite and memorable ending. I think “Omelas” is more of, as you say, a vignette without a real story. Just thinking about it made me pull out Dunsany’s A Dreamer;s Tales and re-read :”POLTARNEES, BEHOLDER OF OCEAN”, (which tells, to my mind, a similar story) and saw the differences. Dunsany’s story is vivid and has a wonderful and unexpected last line: “And the Moon looks down on them and hates them.”

      • hi, Lily/Susie, You’ve certainly read a lot more of that sort of story than I have, at least recently. I have to admit I have not read many short stories since I got out of creative writing classes in college. I can respect the form, but it just is not my style, though I do think that short I wrote for AAB’s contest “What Could Possibly Go Wrong?” (the one about Dr. Linda Red Willow, inventor of the regenabot) would have fit in your average issue of Astounding Science Fiction pretty well. However, as nice as I felt it was, I really think it would have made a pretty good novel as it would have given me the opportunity to really get into Dr. Red Willow’s thoughts and experiences which were fairly intense. In the short story she is merely talking about them to a reporter so the real emotion of her life is glossed over and something that happens way in the past. The reader is removed from all that since a story is, to me, about what is happening now, not in the past (for the character). The story is, for the most part, about the interview and what she is like at that time and how she remembers what she accomplished both of which are in the present of the story. At least that’s how I saw it. Thanks, as always for reading the stuff I write! Peace, Jon/Perry > Date: Fri, 18 Oct 2013 21:20:25 +0000 > To: >

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