Fortune's Favorites

by Colleen McCullough

Reviewed by David Maclaine

Fortune's Favorites is the third volume in Colleen McCullough's seven-novel series on the final decades of the Roman Republic. In the course of this huge book, with plot enough for three or four novels, the old generation gives way to the new. The novel's first half brings to its climax and conclusion the story of Gaius Cornelius Sulla, the fascinating villain who dominated the first two books in the series. During the novel's second half, political leaders named Brutus and Lepidus come to unhappy ends, never suspecting that their sons will make those names live on across the centuries. In Spain a rebellious Quintus Sertorius makes his mark as one of the first great guerilla leaders in history. His nemesis is a remarkable young man named Pompey, who racks up an impressive array of military accomplishments that somehow never quite match his colossal self-regard. Pompey's old friend Cicero takes a step forward too, winning his first big case at law, while a sometime ally named Crassus devotes himself with great success to the goal of becoming rich.

By the end of Fortune's Favorites, though, all these powerful personalities are still overshadowed by the second of the men who make that title plural: Julius Caesar. We follow this brilliant youth through his teens and into his late twenties. He falls deathly ill while fleeing a dictator's henchmen, charms the King of Bithynia at the cost of his reputation, is captured by pirates and lives to take revenge on them, wins honors in his first taste of war, and follows in the footsteps of Marius and Sulla in helping to thwart the latest assault by the armies of King Mithridates of Pontus. His genius is unmistakable, but so too is the wisdom he absorbs from his stern but astute mother Aurelia and his loving aunt Julia, widow of the great Marius. As always in McCullough's series there are many more fascinating characters than any review can list, a wealth of political and domestic intrigue, and military action that ranges from end to end of the Inner Sea. (1993, 878 pages, including an extensive Glossary with informative and fascinating paragraph-long entries on the customs and institutions of Republican Rome)

More about Fortune's Favorites at Powell's Books, or The Book Depository

Fortune's Favorites appears on the list of The 50 Best Historical Novels for a Survey of Ancient Roman History

Other novels set in Rome before the Caesars:

Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome by Steven Saylor (2007), a time-sweep novel about ancient Rome from its earliest founding as a settlement on the banks of the Tiber into the time of Caesar Augustus. See review or more info at Powell's Books

The Gates of Rome by Conn Iggulden (2003), about Julius Caesar as a youth, when he chooses the losing side in the struggle between Marius and Sulla to control Rome; #1 in the Emperor series. More info

The Pillars of Rome by Jack Ludlow (2008), about two young patricians during the time of the Roman Republic who swear loyalty to each other and to Rome; #1 in the Republic trilogy. More info

Nonfiction about Sulla and Pompey:

Sulla: The Last Republican by Arthur Keaveney (2005). More info

Pompey the Great by Robin Seager (2nd ed., 2002). More info

The Last Generation of the Roman Republic by Erich S. Gruen (1995). More info


Caesar and the Pirates at

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