Our first meeting of Gaius in the prologue highlights the sadism prevalent in his character – even as a child. It’s times like this I wish I wasn’t so visual when reading!
The first part tells us the story of how Rufus moves from being a slave to the baker to be the slave of animal keeper Cornelius Aurius Fronto. We learn of the trust Fronto has in Rufus and how the dwindling of livestock for the arena prompts Rufus’ idea of how the animals can be used differently. It is the success of this that leads to Rufus being recognised and later being taken by Gaius to work with his elephant. We come to understand Fronto and Rufus’ father/son relationship. In the arena, we meet gladiator Cupido who is central to the plot.
I have to admit that the extreme feelings associated with the arena had me gripped. You can imagine how it is waiting to go and fight, hearing the other deaths before it’s your turn to please the Emperor in the arena! When Rufus does his first and only display with the animals, the author writes in such a way that you also feel the numbness and fear that Rufus is feeling.
Emperor Tiberius dies and so the reign of death, destruction and torture begins with Gaius as Emperor. Through Rufus, we become involved in court intrigue, scandal and the plotting of the different factions. In some places, the violence is graphic but I have to admit gripping! There is loss and heartache. Surprisingly, there is also love …………. love between a man and a woman but also love between friends.
I enjoyed walking the narrow streets of Rome again, browsing through the different wares the booths were selling and seeing the great architecture. I didn’t enjoy the smell of blood or decomposing bodies quite so much ……….. but they’re such an integral part of Caligula that it’s all part of the adventure!
There is a lot of historical fact included in Caligula. It follows quite closely to what we know from historical records (see Wikipedia for more information on Caligula).
At no point while reading was I bored. In fact I was so caught up in this journey that I was loathe to put the book down. Caligula has taken me on a trip to the past and involved me in lives that became real to me. It has made me confront the dark shadows that are inherent in all of us. I hesitantly turned the pages towards the end (even though I wanted to know what would happen!) because I just didn’t want it to end.
Buy it but be loathe to share it - it's a keeper!