Colleen McCullough is the author of The Thorn Birds, Tim, An Indecent Obsession, A Creed for the Third Millennium, The Ladies of Missalonghi, The First Man in Rome, The Grass Crown, Fortune's Favorites, Caesar's Women, Caesar, and other novels. She lives with her husband on Norfolk Island in the South Pacific.
Senator and debtor, general and seducer, orator and would-be world conqueror, Julius Caesar, as depicted in this fourth installment (after Fortune's Favorites) in McCullough's epic re-creation of ancient Rome, is both a force of nature and something of a momma's boy. He worships his sophisticated mother Aurelia, ``a fount of experience and a mine of common sense,'' while dismissing as ``not important'' his ``expensive, idle, and monumentally silly'' second wife, Pompeia. Its title notwithstanding, this marvelously researched and detailed novel focuses on traditional male pursuits-political intrigue, war, conquest-in the corruption-riddled late Roman republic even as it elucidates the behind-the-scenes influence of women in a repressively patriarchal society. Caesar, though tenderly loving and protective toward his daughter, Julia, pledges her as a child to the adolescent Brutus, with whose mother-the cruel, scheming Servilia-the future dictator of Rome has a purely sexual affair. Years later, Caesar cancels the betrothal in order to use his blossoming daughter as bait to forge a political alliance with the commander of the Roman legions. Meanwhile, Cicero, Caesar's main rival, is portrayed as an incurable vacillator and social climber who displays scant gratitude toward his ``sour'' and ``ugly'' wife, Terentia, despite her foiling a conspiracy against his life. With great brio, and ample attention to Roman customs and rites, as well as to the religious, sexual and social institutions of the day, including slavery, McCullough captures the driven, passionate soul of ancient Rome. Illustrations; maps. Author tour. (Jan.)
In the fourth book in her "Masters of Rome" series, McCullough (Fortune's Favorites, LJ 9/1/93) details Caesar's rise to power from 68-58 B.C. Caesar repeatedly outmaneuvers his enemies, who devise one scheme after another to bring about his political, economic, and social downfall. Eventually he allies himself with Pompey and Crassus to create a formidable triumverate. Despite the book's title, women play minor roles in the novel. Caesar consults his shrewd mother about strategy and depends on her to manage his household. He adores his daughter and misses her dead mother. Nonetheless, he consistently subordinates personal affection to political ambition, seducing the wives of his rivals and maintaining an emotional distance from his own wives and lovers. McCullough crams the book with details about Roman life and politics and includes many pages of notes and a glossary. Those readers following the series and others with an intense interest in the time period will enjoy this installment.‘Kathy Piehl, Mankato State Univ., Minn.