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Adventures in Bookland: The Emperor’s Silver by Nick Brown

With a new cover design that is much more in keeping with the tone of Nick Brown’s excellent Agent of Rome series, the fifth book about the adventures of Imperial agent Cassius Corbulo may be the best so far. In keeping with the genre-bending that Brown has done throughout the series, this one is mainly a detective story, but one embedded in the provincial politics of the third century. The plot is intriguing and the way Brown uses it to examine different aspects of life in the third century is fascinating. However, what sets it apart is the growing conflict, and to a degree resolution, between Cassius, the patrician pagan, and Simo, his Christian slave, and Indavara, his bodyguard, who worships Lady Fortune. Brown does a brilliant job of depicting the different assumptions each bring to these unequal relationships, while keeping them true to third century mores (there are no disguised 21st century characters in these books). It’s a fascinating portrayal of ‘friendship’ between master and slave, where both see the relationship as friendship, but both are equally aware where all the power lies: Cassius can, at any time if he so wishes, sell Simo and there is nothing Simo could do about it. Highly recommended.

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