I had a lot of fun reading this book. I bought this book at face value based only on the title and cover. Well… not really. A friend of mine suggested I read Mr. Jackson because I was looking for another who wrote fictional books on Rome. The initial gut feeling I got when I saw the cover was a good one and you should always go with your gut. Once I read the prologue I knew I had my next book. The main character is a slave named Rufus, and Rufus has a special gift of working with animals. Because of this his life is put on a collision course with the infamous Roman emperor Caligula.
Now despite this book being named ‘Caligula’ it really deals more with Rufus than that depraved cretin. Like I said Rufus has a special gift and he is bought (more like stolen) from his current master to serve the emperor. Caligula has an elephant and has hired Rufus to care for her. Of course this being Rome and Rome being the beautiful ancient enigma she is, nothing is what it seems. Even olives carry the hint of conspiracies. Before Rufus started his corporate job as the Emperors elephant keeper he was a slave and semi-reluctant friend of his master named Fronto.
Fronto recognizes Rufu’s gifts and teaches him probably more than a master should teach a slave. Because of this they develop a bond and this bond leads Rufus to meet Cupido. Cupido is a gladiator and one of the best of his time. He’s a killer through and through but to call him a reluctant killer wouldn’t place you far from the mark. Two slaves with a unique friendship, haunted by their demons, and ruled by a man that is crazier than Slingblade wearing a nut-coat hanging out on the Green Mile.
Both men have to deal with everyday life in Rome as well as the brutal mood swings of Caligula. We all know how insane Caligula was but it’s still a shock to read about, in graphic detail mind you, some of the things he does for sport. Despite the many duties an Emperor must perform to keep Rome running, it’s one that he can’t mention that is the most important. Assassination. The way nutty Caligula thought, to mention it was to make it so. So how Rufus and Cupido get caught up in such a conspiracy is pretty much the center of this story. “All roads lead to Rome”, right? Douglas Jackson thrills us with numerous storylines that will make you laugh, cringe, cry, and shiver all before converging and leading us toward an “ending”.
There really is so much here within these pages that you’ll forgive me for not touching on them all. (NO SPOILERS)… a few things you should be on the lookout for though… who Caligula chooses for Rufu’s wife, what Caligula chooses as his game of choice after dinner, his…ummmm… interrogation techniques, what was blocking the Cloaca Palatina, and his unique and brutally horrific punishment of someone who he deemed a traitor. With all of the brutality that I read and crave, even this one made me whisper a quiet “damn”. I really enjoy the way certain authors end their books, and Douglas’s last sentence cemented me as a fan.