Review: Ceaser's Women by Colleen McCullough

Brian G Turner

Fantasist & Futurist
Staff member
Nov 23, 2002

Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome continues with the fourth book, Caesar's Women.

So far the series has been very enjoyable, but the title of this book sets up preconceptions that the story may be about to take a break - and focus on domestic life in Rome.

Nothing of the sort happens.

Colleen McCullough continues the story of the people of Republican Rome with all the strength of before. In fact, each book in this series just gets better and better - not least because everything that happens previously directly shapes the events and characters that follow.

In this instalment we see Caesar trying to make his place through the increasingly acrimonious, even malicious, politics of the Forum. Gone are the days of Marius sparring with Senatus - Caesar is singled out for opposition by an entire faction of short-sighted patricians.

It soon becomes apparent that he cannot get anywhere alone. Step forward Pompey Magnus and Crassus.

The characterisation, as ever, continues to be superb. There are no easy stereotypes here, and some of the main characters develop and change through the course of the book - not least Caesar and Pompey, but also some of the minor characters who appear, such as Publius Clodius.

If you know even the slightest bit about Roman history there is also an underlying sense of tragedy running through everything - Caesar's fate is well known, but if all you know about Roman history comes from the epic film Cleopatra then you'll also know what's going to happen to Pompey.

Criticisms? Probably the only one is that the author has too much love for Caesar at times. At least once I noticed her write that his toga was "gorgeous", implying author POV rather than character. It's a minor thing, though. While Caesar is set to be too perfect at times, by the end of this novel the cracks are clearly beginning to show with his temper becoming easier to unleash.

There are also a couple of minor typos, where the word "think" has been used instead of "thing".

Utterly trivial criticisms, though.

I checked out the Amazon reviews before writing this. At least one person declared that Colleen McCullough's Masters of Rome series is the greatest Historical Fiction ever written.

I completely concur.

And yet it still surprises me how little this series is talked about. If Historical Fiction is accepted as part of the SFF/speculative fiction genre, then surely Colleen McCullough is one of the greatest SFF writers there is, bar none. The only other author who could potentially rival her for depth and detail is JRR Tolkien.

The Masters of Rome series is not 'pop' reading - these are not easy light reads you can forget and discard. These are books that will stay with you forever. I am always going to remember them fondly.

Some people may be put off by the sheer immersion into Republican Rome, and the fact that these books are not written to be pacey. However, plenty of other popular authors demand our patience at times, and they are writing lesser works. Nothing, but nothing, compares to the sheer depth of this series.

This entire series is highly recommended, and Ceasar's Women builds on the strength of the previous books. I cannot wait for the next instalment, Caesar, which I've already ordered.