One part Gladiator, one part Jurassic Park. Eugeni was a Roman Gladiator (in fact, the best) under the emperor Domitian. Until he fell from favor after failing to kill a friend during a gladiatorial contest. The Praetorian guard was ordered to take him to the North Sea and kill him, but succeeded only in causing him to be frozen, and awakened two millenia later by cryogenic techniques. He’s discovered by Lew McCardle, Ph.D. texan hunting for oil. To keep the discovery secret, Lew enlists the aid of Semyon, a Russian cryonics specialist, and Sister Olav, a non who speaks fluent latin.
The book alternates between Eugeni’s life in Rome, and his experiences coming to grips with being alive, and being in the modern world. The scenes from ancient Rome are simply brilliant — historically accurate, by turns gripping and harrowing, and capture the intrigue of Rome. Interesting details (the Legionnaire’s equivalent of “combat pay” was called “nail pay” — because they wore out the nails in their sandals during long marches) are interspersed with wonderful characterizations. Eugeni is a brilliant character — he has the black humor of soldiers (“How are your pains?” — “My pains enjoy themselves immensely. I do not.”). The interplay between the wordly-wise Eugeni and cynical, aging Lew are priceless. The scene where Eugeni demonstrates in the modern word how brilliant a swordsman he is, is harrowing and devastating.
The modern scenes are done equally as well as the Rome scenes. So it’s hard to characterize the book. It’s one part fantastical historical fiction and one part modern day thriller, combined with a morally compromised realpolitik that drives the plot. It’s a great book, and the writing is smooth as glass. Can’t recommend this book more highly if you are interested in Rome or Gladiators.
As a bonus, here’s a list of other great books about the Roman world: