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Book 3: The First Man in Rome

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3 THE FIRST MAN IN ROME Colleen McCullough (Australia, 1990)



This is the first volume in the historical fiction series The Masters of Rome. It focuses on Gaius Marius and Lucius Cornelius Sulla, their ambitions and successes. 

This novel is over 900 pages long and I cannot describe the relief I feel now that I'm done with it. Not because I do not like long books, but because it's one of the most boring books I've read in the last few years.
I'd read two novels by McCullough prior to this one. The Thorn Birds was cheesy but epic, and Morgan's Run was overlong and boring, though well-researched. I should have learnt my lesson.
The First Man in Rome is very well researched as well, and it's what drew me to the book in the first place. McCullough is regularly praised for the extent of her knowledge in Roman history. Does it make this book worth reading? Absolutely not.
The First Man is poorly written. At times it was so repetitive, both stylistically and in terms of content, that it would make me cringe. The most promising scenes and plot-twists were told retrospectively, thus robbing them of their energy. The most striking example is when Sulla spends a year with an enemy German tribe. Instead of allowing the reader to "live" these incredible experiences with him, the author tells us the story through a stiff dialogue and some after-thoughts. 
Let's talk a bit more about Sulla. According to a lot of reviewers Sulla, his ambitions, charm and homosexuality are the star of the book. Unfortunately there is no depth to them. All the complexities are laid out from the beginning and never truly develop as the story unfolds.

Next time I'll take the Roman History textbook, thank you.

1/5