Lustrum is the second in a (yet to be completed) trilogy of historical novels concerning the life of the Roman senator, philosopher and lawyer, Cicero. I reviewed the first novel in the series, Imperium, just over a week ago (which should be a sign of how good Imperium was). As with Imperium, Lustrum is written from the point of view of Tiro, Cicero’s slave. And is written in a way as to be a fictional version of the actual history of Cicero’s life (the real Tiro did write a biography of Cicero’s life, but that has been lost to history).However a notable absence from this book is the assurance of at least partial historical accuracy. Although it is undoubtedly based upon actual events, and has been written after considerable research. Lustrum begins where Imperium ended, at the beginning of Cicero’s consulship and spans the time period until Cicero’s exile. In contrast to Imperium, Lustrum prominently features a full cohort of famous and interesting antagonists such as Caesar, Mark Antony, Catiline, Crassus, Pompey and the First Triumvirate. And is less concerned with Cicero himself as it ventures deeper into Rome, Cicero’s battles with Catiline, Caesar and Pompey, and the rise of the First Triumvirate.
The second novel definitely features a more entertaining period of Cicero and Rome’s history, that being the rise of Caesar and the decline of Cicero and the Republic. Many prominent events are incorporation such as Caesar’s Governance of Spain and Pompey’s conquests in Asia. However, while the second novel has a more entertaining backdrop as well as a much more interesting cast of secondary characters, it is missing an indescribable spark that the first novel contained. While the first novel suffered somewhat from a lack of pace, especially in periods of intense dialogue, the second novel swings wildly between periods of intense (and fast moving) action, and quite tedious (and slow) scheming and dialogue. In fact the slow periods were so excruciating I often found myself either putting the book down to pursue some other activity, or avoiding the book completely. The book is almost written in two minds, one being a stuffy recreation of Tiro’s masterpiece and the other being a John Grisham rip off.
As with Imperium, this book is perfect for history and politics buffs, and its ideal reader is a combination of the two. Some prior knowledge of Roman history would be ideal, and some knowledge of Roman politics and geography is even better. Furthermore there is no point in reading Lustrum unless you have read Imperium, as with most trilogies, quite a lot of the build-up and character development takes place in the first book, and Lustrum is merely a continuation of the story. Prior knowledge of Cicero, and Cicero’s story are not as helpful as having read Imperium, as this is a fictionalization and differs somewhat from reality.
Lustrum is a fine book, but does not quite live up to its predecessor or the possibilities given it by the subject matter. Harris has attempted to rectify some of the slowness inherent in the first book, but has not found a way to relieve the tedium of the dialogue. By no means do I regret reading this book, and it is a magnificent way to “meet” historical figures. Even though this book does not have the historical bona fides of the first book, there are undoubtedly historical truths to it, and it is a very interesting way to experience history. If you have read the first book, I very much recommend Lustrum.
Genre: Historical Fiction
Author: Robert Harris
Pages: 464 (Paperback)
Publisher: Pocket Books
Amazon Link: Lustrum