Reviewed by David Maclaine
Captain of Rome, the second novel in John Stack's Masters of the Sea series, continues his survey of the first Punic War through the eyes of protagonist Atticus Perennis, a Greek who has become the best captain in the Roman navy. Unfortunately, overall command is in the hands of a political appointee; again the Senate has put the state's armed forces under the command of a man whose arrogance far surpasses his competence. In the course of limiting the damage from the latest command blunder, Atticus makes a new enemy, who will spend much of the novel trying to get revenge. Meanwhile, Atticus' love for Hadria heats up, straining relations with her brother, his legionary friend Septimus. Luckily for the Romans, the Carthaginians are also divided, as Hamilcar Barca struggles to keep his political adversary Hanno from undermining his plans. As the final conflict looms, it seems very much in doubt whether Roman arrogance or Carthaginian disunity will go farthest to shape the battle.
My enjoyment of the novel was undercut by the way Stack's writing often slips from the solid craftsmanship of the first novel in the series. I found myself distracted again and again by the technical weaknesses that catch a writing-teacher's eye. Even when the sentence-level technique is better controlled, the writing is still packed with clichéd comparisons and fits of bombast. I found myself reading it quickly, the way I'll sometimes rush through a bag of salty snacks whose flavor does not reward close attention. If you avoid looking too closely at the prose and don't require great subtlety of characterization, Captain of Rome will provide just enough lively action to get you through. Having eaten two-thirds of the pack, you'll probably finish the whole series, even if the aftertaste has begun to cloy. (2010, 400 pages)More about Captain of Rome at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository