Reviewed by David Maclaine
Render unto Caesar is a cut above the average novel by Gillian Bradshaw, which is to say that it's very good indeed. The novel's setting is Augustan Rome, but the emperor is out of town when the hero, a Greek from Alexandria, arrives seeking repayment of a debt owed to him. His first efforts to win justice are rudely rebuffed; his next attempt embroils him in a dangerous plot. His only ally is a freed gladiatrix, a proud woman who provides some needed muscle, but the tendency of rich, ruthless men to brush aside annoyances by brute force makes it doubtful whether justice is possible for a foreigner in a strange city.
The basic construction of Render unto Caesar is Bradshaw's norm: an action story tinged with romance playing out in a condensed time-frame. But the issue at the center of this story has unusual import. The plot hinges on whether authorities in Rome will honor a contract held by a Roman citizen hailing from a distant province. Will Roman pride and prejudice outweigh the rule of law? Should a Greek who is treated as inferior purely because of his non-Roman nationality continue to press for justice in the face of violence and death threats? Will the deputies of an absent emperor uphold law and order, or will their bigotry blind them to a deadly conspiracy? Render unto Caesar ratchets up the tension and sustains suspense even though we're pretty sure all will turn out well in the end. The story's resolution includes a nice surprise, sidestepping the expectations of modern romance and replacing them with an outcome that doesn't distort historical realities. The question at the center of the story, "What does it mean to be a Roman citizen?" lies at the very heart of the imperial ideal, and in the hopes of any nation that aspires to be more than an overgrown tribe. (2003, 461 pages)More about Render unto Caesar at Powell's Books, Amazon.com or The Book Depository