Blood and Steel, second in the Throne of the Caesars series, takes place in the course of twenty busy days in March of 238 A.D. The emperor who unwillingly assumed his title in the first volume is now across the Danube with his army fighting the barbarian Iazges. Many miles away in Africa, the two Gordians, father and son, must scramble to make something of their own impulsive bid for the throne. As news of their revolt spreads, an assortment of characters across the empire must make the life-or-death decision of whether to stay loyal to the unpopular Maximinus, a fine soldier but too low-born for patrician tastes, or switch sides to the new candidates. Some of the characters have more pressing concerns: Maximinus' daughter-in-law yearns to escape from her abusive husband, while far to the east, across the Euphrates at Carrhae, the governor of a frontier province must deal with a Persian invasion. But most of them, especially those in Africa and Rome, must first choose their allegiance and then do their utmost to survive the fallout from whichever dangerous choice they make.
As always, Sidebottom's depiction of the details of Roman life feel as authentic as you would expect from a fine classical scholar, while his literary craftsmanship meets the challenge of quickly and clearly sketching the inner lives of an assortment of distinctive characters. The variety of sexual attitudes and preferences feels natural for the very different world in which these characters live. As the title Blood and Steel suggests, the novel offers battle scenes set in every quarter of the empire, and not a few murders. But even in a turbulent age, life goes on; we find ourselves drawn into the private lives and interpersonal relations of a varied lot of people trying to get through their daily tribulations, and we root for them, often against the odds, to survive to see another day. (2016, 419 pages)More about Blood and Steel at Powell's Books or Amazon.com