Caligula by Douglas Jackson (Roman Trilogy: Book 1)

Gaius Julius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the third Roman Emperor, is better known by another name: Caligula, a name synonymous with decadence, cruelty and madness.

Rufus, a young slave, grows up far from the corruption of the imperial court. His master is a trainer of animals for the gladiatorial arena, and Rufus discovers that he has a natural talent for controlling and schooling the animals. It is at the arenas that Rufus meets his great friend Cupido, one of Rome’s greatest gladiators.

His growing reputation as an animal trainer his friendship with Cupido attract the cruel gaze of the Emperor; who wants a keeper for the imperial elephant. Rufus is bought from his master and taken to the imperial palace, where life is dictated by Caligula’s ever-shifting moods. He is as generous as he is cold-blooded, a megalomaniac who declares himself a god and simultaneously remains in constant fear of the plots against his life. But his paranoia is not misplaced. Intrigue permeates the court, and Rufus and Cupido find themselves unwittingly at the centre of a conspiracy to assassinate Caligula. But can a slave decide the fate of an emperor?

The day that Douglas Jackson logged onto and asked for feedback on his writing may well turn out to be a great day for historical fiction. The sad and untimely death of David Gemmell in 2006 left a void needing to be filled by an author that can thrill, entertain and delight in the same vein as the legendary British author. Douglas Jackson may just be that author.

2009 is the inaugural year of the David Gemmell Legend award; an honour that will go to a book that contains the spirit or tradition of David Gemmell’s own work. Caligula deserves to be amongst the nominations.

Caligula, or to give the book it its full name Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome is a work of historical fiction that draws upon great source material in the form of the ill-fated reign of the psychotic Roman emperor. The plot itself is excellent and the characters are very strong and extremely well developed. The triumvirate of memorable leads feature the slave Rufus, the gladiator Cupido and the emperor Caligula himself. There is great contrast between these three men; the differing social standings make for fascinating relationships. 

"The saddest eyes Rufus had ever seen gazed from a face as handsome as the mask which had hidden it, and more so, for this was the face of a living, breathing thing and not some soulless metal façade that killed without compassion or conscience. His hair was the colour of a cornfield in high summer, but his eyes were the dull grey of a winter’s morning. The sadness in them had depths that Rufus knew he could never – or hoped never to – fathom."
Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome – Chapter 4

Caligula is an emperor that divides expert opinion and it is the historian's favourite that we find here, a psychotic and paranoid emperor whose moods change with the wind. Douglas Jackson has shown remarkable constraint within the narrative and the carnal and violent episodes that marked Caligula’s reign are admirably limited. This does, however, have the effect of making those moments all the chilling and horrific. The excerpt below precedes the beating to death of a prisoner with his own chains – shocking and ghastly in its realism and unexpectedness.

“Through his panic, he barely heard Caligula’s chilling whisper in his ear. ‘Watch, elephant boy, watch every moment and understand how the Emperor rewards those who betray him. Look away but once and I will have your eyes sewn shut.’ Then he heard the rattle of the chains.”
Caligula: The Tyranny of Rome – Chapter 35

Douglas Jackson is assistant editor at The Scotsman and this shows itself in the striking attention to detail found within the narrative. Caligula is a wonderfully fast-paced, exciting, educational and intelligent book. The emphasis is not, as one might expect, on the cruel emperor himself but on Rome, its people, and the effect that his reign had on them. Highly recommended and highly enjoyable.

Douglas Jackson was born in Jedburgh in the Scottish borders and now lives in Bridge of Allan.

7/10 Highly recommended and highly enjoyable.

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1 positive reader review(s) for Caligula

Caligula reader reviews

from Australia

Really better than iggulden? and comparable to Gemmell? Don't agree, the book was just fluff, I really found it to be rather shallow and empty... It was entertaining at times, silly at others, worth a read to try out a new author, but not great...
6/10 ()

from Glasgow

I was sorry when the book ended; I had to keep reading, would have enjoyed more. Much better than Iggulden.
10/10 ()

7.7/10 from 3 reviews

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