The Grass Crown (Masters of Rome No.2) – Colleen McCullough
Random House, 1991
Rome is the city without kings. Its Senate is a constantly shifting balance of power between the ancient patrician families and the charismatic New Men. None symbolise that competition better than the fiercely ambitious patrician Sulla, desperate to advance his political career after a youth spent on the battlefield, and the adored war hero Gaius Marius, ageing and unwell but commanding a respect Sulla can only dream of. Both men foresee a war with Mithridates, the covetous king of Pontus – but unrest is brewing much closer to home, and when it boils over, nothing will be the same.
This book, like its predecessor The First Man in Rome, is enormous. There is no foreword to catch up on past events in the series so you’ll definitely need to read book one for it to make sense, but a glossary is included at the back to help with more obscure Roman terminology. The Grass Crown is frequently intensely violent in a way I’d usually find very difficult to read but McCullough’s writing is so skillful that she maintains the flow of the story even at its ugliest moments and she doesn’t dwell on them at unnecessary length either. It’s testament to her talent that I can’t say I really liked most of the characters but I always wanted to know what they would do next. This is rich, epic storytelling, all the more frightening – and amazing – because it’s based on truth. The series continues with Fortune’s Favourites.