Deposed is a work of Roman historical fiction set around the shocking disappearance of Emperor Nero. David Barbaree has created a story from the history recorded about the possible fate of the famous tyrant.
The book moves back and forth between AD 65 and AD 79 and the short chapters are written from the points of view of several of the main characters. Even with chapter headings, I did struggle, at first, to get used to all the time changes and different people, as this is a book with an epic cast of characters.
In this tale, Nero is attacked, beaten up, kidnapped and taken to a prison outside Rome. Left blind and severely thrashed, his only attendant is a young slave boy sent to him daily with bread and water. Forced to take a humble approach to his life’s new circumstances, Nero befriends the young slave, Marcus, and gets him to make contact with the actor Doryphorus; a plan of escape is hatched for all three. Meanwhile, Nero is determined to find who betrayed him, and makes a list of possible candidates. With years of empty hours at his disposal, he works his way through the suspects.
The three travel to Sardinia, where they are captured by bandits, but luck travels with Nero. The gang’s leader is indebted to him, and the captives’ prospects rise. Nero buys the identity of another prisoner, taking on the persona of Lucius Ulpius Traianus, from Spain. For Nero to ever return to Rome the group need money; they head to Africa and the shores of Carthage, where Nero knows of the undiscovered treasure of Dido. They live for a while in Alexandria, before going to Rhodes.
In AD 79, Titus is the eldest son and Prefect of the Praetorian Guard under Emperor Vespasian. It is his job to keep the Emperor safe and squash any plots against him. Few can be trusted and everyone is under suspicion as political struggles between those in power dominate daily life.
All around Rome rumours fly about rich, blind, Senator Ulpius from Spain. Many are invited to his house to dine, including Titus, who dislikes the mysterious host, but when a new plot against the Emperor’s life is revealed Titus finds himself on the same battle side as Ulpius.
It took a while to get into this book, but the character names and the moving between time periods became easier to deal with as the book progressed. A point around two-thirds in, letters sent between Nero and Caratacus three years before Nero’s fall are used to fill in background details. This was a weak area for me, taking me out of the main story for too long.
I liked how the story built hinting that a future Emperor might be one named Marcus, adopted and trained by a past leader; however, I was disappointed by one aspect of the ending. I know there needs to be an end point and some story threads can remain unanswered, but I felt uncertain that Nero had got to the real bottom of his lists of suspects. I agree the reader was shown who was most likely behind the plot to kill Nero, which was written well, but the story was about Nero getting to the whole truth.
A good debut novel from an interesting but complex era when historical fact is very hard to find or prove.
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More gripping than Game of Thrones and more ruthless than House of Cards – this a stunning new thriller of power, treachery and revenge
In a darkened cell, a brutally deposed dictator lies crippled – deprived of his power, his freedom – and his eyes.
On the edge of utter despair, his only companion is the young boy who brings him his meagre rations, a mere child who fears his own shadow. But to one who has held and lost the highest power, one thing alone is crystal clear: even emperors were mere children once.
Ten years later, the new ruler’s son watches uneasily over his father’s empire. Wherever he looks rebellion is festering, and those closest to him have turned traitor once before.
To this city in crisis comes a hugely wealthy senator from the very edge of the empire, a young and angry ward at his heels. He is witty but inscrutable, generous with his time and money to a leader in desperate need of a friend – and he wears a bandage over his blinded eyes.
The fallen emperor’s name is Nero.
But this isn’t his story.