It is 48 B.C. For years now, the rival Roman generals Caesar and Pompey have engaged in a contest for world domination. Both now turn to Egypt, where Pompey plans a last desperate stand on the banks of the Nile, while Caesar's legendary encounter with queen Cleopatra will spark a romance that reverberates down the centuries. But Egypt is a treacherous land, torn apart by the murderous rivalry between the goddess-queen and her brother King Ptolemy.
Into this hot-house atmosphere of intrigue and deception comes Gordianus the Finder, innocently seeking a cure for his wife Bethesda in the sacred waters of the Nile. But when his plans go awry, he finds himself engaged in an even more desperate pursuit - to prove the innocence of the son he once disowned, who stands accused of murder.
The judgment of Caesar will determine the fate of Gordianus's son; the choice Caesar makes between Cleopatra and her brother Ptolemy will determine the future of Rome's empire. At the center of these two dilemmas, Gordianus becomes the unwitting fulcrum that will shift the balance of history. Witness to the death throes of the old world, he is to play a critical role in the birth of the world to come.
Drawing scrupulously on historical sources, this is the most ambitious novel yet in Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series. Saylor presents a bold new vision of Caesar and paints a compelling and original portrait of Cleopatra, amid bloodshed, battles and storms, in a setting of Egyptian magic and mystery.
Perhaps this superb historical novel will be the breakthrough Saylor richly deserves. His previous nine entries in his Roma Sub Rosa series (Roman Blood, etc.) convincingly recreated first-century B.C. Rome through the eyes of a clever and empathetic detective, Gordianus the Finder, whose pursuit of truth has enmeshed him in complicated political intrigues involving such legendary figures as Julius Caesar, Cicero and Pompey. The 10th installment, set in Alexandria, once again features Caesar, now maneuvering between the two rivals for the Egyptian throne, Ptolemy and Cleopatra, in an effort to consolidate his own claim to rule Rome. Gordianus's reputation as an honest fact finder, and his familiarity with the centers of power, make him a valuable asset to all three leaders, even as he grapples with a bitter personal loss. The mystery the identity of the poisoner who claimed the life of the royal taster and almost killed both Caesar and Cleopatra is a subplot that appears only late in the book. That the reader is engaged throughout despite this is a compelling testament to Saylor's growth as a writer and to his seemingly effortless ability to imagine characters who feel real. Longtime fans will find the evolution of Gordianus's personal relationships fascinating, but the backstory is not so complex as to bar new readers from entering Saylor's world.