The Seven Hills by John Maddox Roberts (Hannibal's Children #2)

JMR's second installment of his alternative history of the Roman Republic unfortunately tends to wander off into the hot and humid distance with no discernible oasis in sight. Much is given over to Titus Norbanus' anabasis and growing ego-eccentricity whilst Scipio pouts and postures in Alexandria playing with his new-fangled toys generated by the Archimedean school.

This novel is that lull before the third explosive finale as the two main protagonists cross their personal Rubicons and build their military and political might using the new empire as a personal plaything. Scipio spends all his time with Selene angling for the Egyptian army and navy to become his personal troops on a march on Carthage. Meanwhile, Titus Norbanus marches up towards Greece conquering all and defeating two Carthaginian armies who are attempting their own alpine crossing (minus elephants). The only real difference between the two is one possesses humility, the other delusions of grandeur. You can see where JMR is heading.

You get the impression that JMR came up with a good `what if' in the first novel and took it on marvellous strides off into an alternative history where Carthage wasn't sown with salt and Rome got sent north into the Germanic forests. Once he'd re-established the re-emergence of Rome then it was a case of what to do and we end up with a variant of Caesar and Pompey, or Octavius and Anthony as they both head to Egypt to fall in with their own Cleopatra and start the descent towards imperialism whilst an increasingly aging and befuddled Senate protests in the background. The characterization is neither good nor bad, the personalities plausible copies of the reality that was Rome. The plot meanders along as though the author is looking for his milestones and you get the impression this novel is purely filler for his handling of Rome's latent ascendancy in the Mediterranean with the personal battle between Scipio and Norbanus providing a side amusement.

It's not as good as the first and the series definitely needs Decius Quintus Caecilius the Younger.

7/10 Not as good as the first.

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