The first book in Conn Iggulden's highly impressive Emperor series, The Gates of Rome, immediately marked the author out as one of the most accomplished practitioners of the sweeping historical novel at work today. The second book, The Death of Kings, creates another massive panoply of the Ancient World with the young Caesar serving onboard a war galley in the dangerous tempest-tossed waters of the Mediterranean. Achieving a striking victory with his already fully formed intellect and forceful personality, things suddenly turn disastrous for him when he is captured by pirates and imprisoned on the North Coast of Africa. But Caesar knows he is not fated to end his prospects here, and uses his charisma and leadership abilities to forge a lean and lethal squadron of warriors who break out of captivity and find themselves involved in a bloody uprising in Greece. And, inevitably, Caeser is soon back on his way to Rome for another encounter that will have tremendous consequences both for him and his fellow Romans.
Iggulden's skills are many and varied: he is well aware that narratives such as this must have an irresistible forward impetus, and that's maintained with an inexorable control here. And he knows that the reader must constantly have the details of these fabulous ancient times conjured afresh throughout the book--but never at the expense of the trajectory of the story. The author's key achievement, though, is in his laser-sharp characterisation of Caesar and those he encounters--and this is where the real splendour of The Death of Kings lies: Caesar is very much a man of his time, but the conjuring trick of allowing the modern reader to enter his psychology is always handled with quiet assurance.
It's only matter of time before Hollywood gets its hand on this property, with its copious action, mighty sea battles and vivid backdrops--but this is the way to enjoy it, leaping with vigour from the printed page. --Barry Forshaw