Note: I originally requested this novel via Netgalley, but had technical issues that took a while to get a response from Netgalley in order to download the book. While waiting for the response, I also requested the audiobook via Audiobook Jukebox (thanks!). So, this review covers both as I listened to the audio and used the ebook to review favorite sections.
Following on the heals of the assassination of Julius Caesar, The Blood of the Gods follows Octavian (Julius’s nephew and adopted son and heir), Marc Antony (Julius’s loyal friend), and Marcus Brutus (Julius’s childhood friend and assassin). Conn Iggulden gives us a very good historical fiction that closely follows known historical facts. But he goes beyond that, bringing faces, emotions, and test of wills alive on the pages of this book. For a time, the Liberators, including Brutus, hold all the political power. Marc Antony must join with Octavian to try to punish those who killed his dearest friend. Octavian sets his two closest friends, Agrippa and Maecenas, in charge of building a navy and helping gather and command his army.
This was a very exciting book, and part of that is because it is based on very exciting times. The rest of it, is because Iggulden brings these historical persons alive on the page. Octavian’s unwavering belief that Marc Antony is his friend because of past allegiances and their current striving to bring the Liberatoris to justice becomes one of his flaws. He can’t see how dangerous Antony may be or that he may be merely a temporary ally. Luckily, Octavian has two stout friends, lots of money, and Roman military at his back. Meanwhile, Antony scorns the outstretched friendly hand of Octavian, which wasn’t his smartest move in all of history.
I loved the rebuilding of the fleet after the current fleet was given to one of Octavian’s enemies by the Liberatori-heavy Senate. Agrippa gets his chance to shine, having the ‘honor’ to build the ships, gather enough men to man them, train them on a large lake, and then have the men dig a channel to the sea, upon which they shall fight their first sea battle and hopefully win. Yeah, it can be a little tough being Octavian’s friend. But it really was fantastic, even if you are familiar with the time period and know how it plays out.
But the goodness doesn’t end there. We get a few insights into the real-life recurring illness from which Octavian suffered. We also follow a few of the Libertoris around, seeing from the inside how they cope with the turn of events. Many of these men lead otherwise honorable lives, have wives and children, and joined in the Ides of March because they believed they were freeing a nation. Overall, this is a very well-rounded, fully engaging novel.
Alas, Iggulden says in his afterward that while Octavian’s life and deeds could fill another lengthy series, he plans to leave it here. I was saddened to hear this as Iggulden himself points out that Octavian has been misrepresented many times as a weakling and/or coward when the historical record is clear that this was not the case. So who better to educate the masses than Iggulden himself? So, for now, I will keep my fingers crossed that perhaps in time he changes his mind and gives us another 3-5 volumes on the life of Octavian.
The Narration: Michael Healy had a very clear diction and even pacing. However, there was often little to no distinction between characters and he often did not imbue exciting scenes (think climatic naval battle) with any sense of excitement or urgency.