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Posts Tagged ‘Nick Brown’

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

Sunday, December 24th, 2017

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.

Adventures in Bookland: The Black Stone by Nick Brown

Saturday, December 23rd, 2017

The first four books in this marvellous series are not well served by their covers, and I think this, the fourth and final volume with a cover in this style, is the worst. Looking at it, you’d be justified in thinking the book it covers told the adventures of some muscle-bound Roman lunk whose only recourse when faced with a problem is to get out his sword. In fact, while tense and exciting, it’s a long way from the hack ‘n’ slash of the wish-fulfilment school of historical fiction written for male readers. Cassius Corbulo, the hero, is cerebral rather than brawny, the series itself plays with different genres, mashing up detective fiction, thrillers and espionage, with very little in the way of the military hist-fic that the cover promises. But what makes the stories stand out is the developing, and deepening, relationship between patrician and pagan when it suits him Cassius, his Christian slave, Simo, and his bodyguard, Indavara, who worships Lady Fortune. The dynamics and power imbalances implicit in such relationships are brought out skillfully by Nick Brown, and these are what make me want to read more (alongside a cracking plot with all sorts of unexpected turns of fortune). The books are also developing an interesting realist take on the outcomes of these sorts of contests: often, the bad guys do get away. All in all, another excellent installment in the Agent of Rome series.

Adventures in Bookland: The Far Shore by Nick Brown

Monday, December 4th, 2017

This is number four in Nick Brown’s Agent of Rome series and it shows a continuing improvement and deepening in the author’s work. The key to the series is the complicated relationship between its three main protagonists: Cassius Corbulo, a young Roman patrician and agent of Imperial Security; Indavara, an ex-gladiator who has lost his memory of life before the arena but who is now his bodyguard; and Simo, Cassius’s slave. Their unfolding relationship, and the ramifications of the very unequal levels of power each man has, is played out against an exciting plot – but the plot is only exciting because the reader had become deeply invested in these three men, and wants to know how things turn out for them. Excellent.

Adventures in Bookland: The Imperial Banner by Nick Brown

Saturday, December 2nd, 2017


As authors, we have a tendency to stand in thrall to those mysterious creatures known as book designers, trotting out in the acknowledgements or emails to the publisher our thanks for the sterling work done by the design team. We do this, (a) because we have no choice, and if we don’t butter up the design department then they really might do something frightful next time round and (b) because if we were any good at coming up with front covers we’d be designers ourselves (and making much better money to boot). Of course, sometimes we are well served by our designers – as, I hasten to add, I have been with my Northumbrian Thrones covers – but sometimes designers do a book or a series no favours at all. In Nick Brown’s case, I think this is true. Look at the above, the cover for book number 2 in his Agent of Rome series. Tell me, seeing it, what it tells you? And then, let me show you the covers of books 1, 3 and 4 in the series:


These covers tell a story to me of some muscle bound centurion whose first recourse to any problem is to whip out his sword and cut people up – the most hackneyed hack and slash version of historical fiction and the male equivalent of the worst sort of chick lit, wish fulfilment in a toga. But the books aren’t like this at all. Cassius Corbulo, the hero, is notably incompetent with a sword, relying on his wits rather than his muscles: Nick Brown also mixes up the genres, stirring in elements of detective fiction, thrillers and chase stories into the mix. None of this you can tell from the above covers. He must have been so relieved when his publisher showed him the cover of book 5 in the series, and then did even better work on the new design with book 6.


These jackets tell far more accurately of the more subtle pleasures to be had beneath their covers. I’m sure Nick Brown was pleased – I certainly would be, with covers like these.

Adventures in Bookland: The Siege by Nick Brown

Friday, November 24th, 2017

Having started with number 6 in the Agent of Rome series I’ve gone back to the beginning and the first posting for a young and callow Cassius Corbulo. Two thirds of the elements that will make this a great series are already there: Cassius himself and his slave Simo, ever punctilious for his master yet careful to conserve the small dignity afforded to him as a slave in Imperial Rome. What’s missing in this first book is the third member of the team, the bodyguard Indavara, who makes his debut in the next novel. However, even without him, this book serves to introduce an unusual, for historical fiction, hero and his even more unusual slave. Cassius is not much good with a sword, relying on his brain rather than muscles, although he does match up with the male wish fulfillment element of historical fiction in that he is unfeasibly handsome and attractive to women. Simo is, potentially, an even more interesting character; I hope Brown will look more deeply into how a slave might attempt dignity when he is, literally, property. The story itself rips along. As soon as I’d finished The Siege I started on The Imperial Banner, the next in the series.

Adventures in Bookland: The Earthly Gods by Nick Brown

Monday, October 2nd, 2017


I’ve fallen hideously behind in my adventures in bookland – indeed, it might have looked like I had abandoned bookland entirely – but never fear, it remains my favourite place in which to travel, and Nick Brown’s series of the adventures of Imperial agent Cassius looks like it will be a very good place to travel. This is the sixth (and currently last) book in the series, but its story of kidnap, adventure, quest and survival is excellent, and the characters memorable and well rounded. An excellent example of historical fiction and highly recommended.