Thracia, AD30: Even after four years military service at the edge of the Roman world, Vespasian can't escape the tumultuous politics of an Empire on the brink of disintegration. His patrons in Rome have charged him with the clandestine extraction of an old enemy from a fortress on the banks of the Danube before it falls to the Roman legion besieging it.
Vespasian's mission is the key move in a deadly struggle for the right to rule the Roman Empire. The man he has been ordered to seize could be the witness that will destroy Sejanus, commander of the Praetorian Guard and ruler of the Empire in all but name.
Before he completes his mission, Vespasian will face ambush in snowbound mountains, pirates on the high seas, and Sejanus's spies all around him. But by far the greatest danger lies at the rotten heart of the Empire, at the nightmarish court of Tiberius, Emperor of Rome and debauched, paranoid madman.
Rome's Executioner is the second book in the Vespasian series written by Robert Fabbri, just a short while ago I read Robert Fabbri's debut and the first book in the series Tribune of Rome. I was immediately hooked into it, Tribune of Rome begins with an most interesting promise and all along the story you are really in for some good action and betrayal. This first book offered a few glimpses in to the live of young Vespasian and I was certainly quite eager to see how the beginning of his legendary story would continue.
The second book in the series starts off a few years after the events of the first book. The focus is again on Vespasian and how he is navigating himself through a treacherous time in and out of Rome. Vespasian still serves in Thracia and the beginning of Rome's Executioner actually sees him in the normal runs of business. He is hunting animals and hasn't seen that much action over quite a long time. But it soon seems that his "boring" days have come to an end and Vespasian has a new task set out for him. I really liked how Vespasian was set out on a mission to do things. This way of showing the story gave for me the feeling that we are looking at a character in the making. It's a bit hard to describe but I hope you catch my drift. Like I said Vespasian is a soldier and his higher ups set him on a course to complete and by this Robert Fabbri invites the reader onto a journey of how Vespasian came to be an important character in Roman history. He didn't receive everything with just a blink of his eye, but he had to fight for his life, already quite a few times. This idea inspires a sort of "coming-of-age" for Vespasian and fits very well into the lines of the story. OK so, let me get back to his mission. Vespasian has to find a specific person into the Thracian camp and bring him back to Rome that will help him to remove Sejanus, the leader of the Praetorian Guard, out of the picture. The Thracian might seem like simple savages, but the camp that Vespasian has to infiltrate proves to be quite the opposite and added to this comes the daunting task to keep the prisoner alive during the long track back to Rome, which brings Vespasian and cohorts across dangerous mountains and deadly waters. It might seem a simple mission when telling it about on paper but the way that Robert Fabbri describes all the events, it shows to be quite the contrary.
With almost five year in between books, Vespasian's character has been quite shaped and changed by his time spend in the military and you hardly recognize the farmboy easy living attitude in him, that he once was. He now seeks the thrills of adventure and battle but he might get more that he had bargained for in Rome's Executioner. Vespasian development mostly took place off the paper but there is also plenty still taking place in in the book itself. On the battlefield he is now a seasoned warrior, he knows how to fight and it pretty good in it but his development goes much deeper than just being good on the battlefield. Robert Fabbri has done a nice thing by involving the brother of Vespasian, Sabinus, into the story and showing their relation. Vespasian and Sabinus are quite opposite and even though Vespasian is the younger one, it does seem to be that he is the wisest one. Vespasian is growing up to be a responsible person, but he still has something that makes him this young boy, he one through love back in Rome. However for Vespasian it is hard to see how he should tackle this romance of him, bound by the Roman laws... this proves to be difficult. Robert Fabbri shows Vespasian in a diverse surroundings from the battlefield of Thracia to the political web of Rome and these parts make Vespasian's character great, he is adapting, growing and learning.
Now another thing where the first book excelled in is the action. Well Rome's Executioner isn't an exception either. From start in Thracia to finish in Rome you are in for quite a ride. The story has a great pacing that owes one part to the way that Robert Fabbri writes his story and a second part to the actual events that are happening. Robert Fabbri writes with a definite confidence and this is often seen in the outings of several characters, he is letting officers and other people use some strong language that helps bolster the current situation, now whether this was going on in the Roman times, I don't have a clue, but in the context of this story and the events that were unfolding with particular misfortunes is fits spot on and really helps set the mood straight. So that's his writing but what about the events? Well, you are taken through some colorful surrounding and happenings, from the forests of Thracia through snow covered mountains and if you thought it would go directly to the walls of Rome your wrong. Vespasian is traversing a pirate infested sea... Now this is one thing that I haven't seen being told to this level and the action that takes place on high sea, well it's just amazing. How these scene was setup and in particular the scenes with battle is just top stuff and will be something that I will keep recounting in my mind for a long time.
You might think that when Vespasian delivered the spy to Rome that the story of Rome's Executioner might see it's ending. It's far from that, it seems that the story just start to pick up speed in a new way once Rome gets into the picture. The big question is what will happen to Sejanus? Well, you just have to find out for yourself. You will be surprised by the events that will unfold in the end.
With Rome's Executioner, Robert Fabbri has written another great story. Tribune of Rome was a great start of the series and the sequel had a lot to live up to and it did. The story doesn't falter as you sometimes see in a sequel but Robert Fabbri really uses Vespasian in a great way to show what he wants to tell in his story. We are still seeing Vespasian in his younger years and his learning moments seem to be just as valuable for his character but also for the reader. You keep on seeing more and more of the history of this important character of Roman history. Robert Fabbri's writing style keeps the story on a nice pacing, it's one action-packed story to the finish. Besides the often non-stop action, there are a few scenes in between that allow you to refocus and recount all the earlier events and give them a solid place in the story, before you are once again thrown in the mix of this rich Roman character and his story. Vespasian is definitely a series you want to have read.