Tribune of Rome

Tribune of Rome by Robert Fabbri, Vespasian #1

AD 26: 16-year-old Vespasian leaves his family farm for Rome, set on finding a patron and joining the army. What he finds is a city in turmoil and an empire on the brink of disintegration.

Rome is in the iron grip of Sejanus, commander of the Praetorian Guard, and ruler of the empire in all but name. His spies are everywhere - careless words at a dinner party can be as lethal as a barbarian arrow. 

Out of his depth, Vespasian flees the city for a post as tribune on the Balkan frontier. Unblooded and inexperienced, he must lead his man in savage battle. Rebellion is in the air, and Vespasian soon realizes that he can't escape Roman politics, any more than he can escape his destiny.


Tribune of Rome is the first book in the Vespasian series written by Robert Fabbri. As the name implies and the synopsis of the book, its set in the Roman times! Yes! I have come to love this genre over the couple of week a lot. Tribune of Rome is also Robert Fabbri's debut book. Robert Fabbri has worked in the film and TV business for 25 years and worked as an assistant director on productions such as: Hornblower, Patriot Games, Hellraiser and Billy Elliot. With Tribune of Rome, Robert Fabbri realized his life-long passion for ancient history. 

From all the Roman fiction books that I have read so far, each has been focusing on a different non-fictional characters from history or were fictional characters. In Tribune of Rome you follow the early life and times of Titus Flavius Vespesianus, also called Vespasian. Vespasian is a non-fictional character that played an important part in Roman history, though Robert Fabbri said he tried to stay as close to the actually events as possible, it is still fiction, and he did change the rules a bit. 

The first thing that I do have to mention is the way that Robert Fabbri has setup the storyline, what you normally see is a focus on a current day and age of an important event, with characters all grown up. Well in Tribune of Rome you are in for a quite a surprise as you are taken back to the earlier days of Vespasian, even so far as when he was born. And for me what was being told in his earlier days really has set Vespasian's character straight. Firstly, in a birthing ritual accompanied by animal sacrifices but something is off, and already a great veil is being laid around Vespasian's character. What could he destiny be? What will his significance be? And as the story progresses Vespasian hears that he is destined, but by an sworn oath, no one is allowed to speak of this. This is one thing that kept me fired up until the end of the book and even then, you are still left clueless what the marks were and what Vespasian is destined to do.. quite aggravating but saying this in the best positive way ofcourse. 

After this ritual you are skipped a few years later and see him in his coming-of-age years, not as a viscous warrior instead Vespasian is working on his parent's farm taking care of the animals. Vespasian is good at calculating and has other smarts as well but no combat experience at all. For me showing the daily life of Vespasian really gave this innocent feeling to him. It's by the returning of his older brother Sabinus, that Vespasian's life takes a turn. Vespasian is ready to "grow-up" and is being thought the soldier life by Sabinus, and in return Vespasian is giving Sabinus lessons at math. This all in preparation of their future, as Vespasian legacy can only come true on one front... 

I was very impressed by the way that Vespasian's character was shown and when you see him on the battlefield fighting against the Thracians, all brutal and grown up, it did fall to me to relate his personality of his younger years with what he has become and I think if you look closely you still can see a resemblance. But next to Vespasian, the secondary cast of the characters all help to make this a great story, and even though many of them are like Vespasian, non-fictional characters, they don't feel like they just appear. Instead Robert Fabbri shows them in a way that you would have assumed them to be, Emperors ruling with an iron fist, backstabbing politician and Sejanus and his freedman Hasbro just gave me the outright creeps. 

Like I mentioned above the storyline of Tribune of Rome focuses on the days of Vespasian, but it does take you places. After being made ready for the soldier life, Vespasian and his family travel to Rome to use their contacts to find Vespasian a place as a military tribune to gain experience. However with only one foot set in Rome, Vespasian discovers that it's not all a life of glory in the big city and soon finds himself fleeing to safe his own life and that of others. This flight brings him directly in the battle front in Thracia. But Vespasian, never fought in a real army, 16-years-old and a military tribune, now finds out just how hard life on the march is... This explanation of the storyline is way too short to describe Tribune of Rome but telling more would spoil your experience. There is a lot accompanied in all this, from betrayal, kidnappings, political intrigue and pitch army battles. Robert Fabbri had setup the storyline in a great manner, directly managing to pull me in from the start. 

Just lastly I want to mention the action in Tribune of Rome, now this is how I remember the Roman times. Hard, viscous, brutal and bloody. The focus isn't perse on this as earlier in the book there is a lot of exposition on Vespasian and how he is being made to what he is. But when the action does start to kick in, being it on a full scale field battles or assassinations, Robert Fabbri does manage to greatly anticipate the action and really start with building the right amount of tension. The describing of these events, from sword fights to cavalry charges and even defending with throwing the pilum's to the enemy are all done in full colors and really inspired several images in my mind like I was just there as a spectator. But it's not only the battle action that is described in lively detail, also when Vespasian is on the rescue mission and subsequently being chased down there is a great pull on the reader to drag you into the story and similarly were the horse races. Robert Fabbri really shows that he knows his writing.

When I first started reading I hadn't expected Tribune of Rome to work out in the way that it did. Normally you have a picture of where the story might go, Tribune of Rome went above my expectations. I have been reading a fair bit of Roman fiction in the last months and they all are great but Tribune of Rome does something that I haven't encountered before. Showing the story of the non-fictional main protagonist from the beginning. Like I said above you really see how several events shaped Vespasian and how he turned from his farmboy attitude to a blooded warrior of Rome. What makes it even more remarkable is that Tribune of Rome is Robert Fabbri's debut and he managed to avoid a lot of pittfalls that usually accompany them, his characterizations are spot on and even the non-fictional characters, though they have a set history don't feel static but he makes them dynamic and really fit in to the story. The way the story was executed down to the details of intrigue and action make everything come to show. Only one small remark, there is this one scene where the word "chap" is used and looking back on the Roman times I felt this less suited on the whole, but other than this, there isn't anything wrong with Tribune of Rome for me, its super.

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