I have a *thing* for ancient Rome. I know, I know. I have 'things' about a lot of things. What can I say, my obsessions are many and varied. :) Anyway. That's why I picked this book up.
So The Tribune centers around and is told from the point of view of legionnaire Lucius Aurelius Valens. We start off at a point where he is on duty in Syria, investigating a series of bloody raids. There is a band of marauders riding through the area, demanding protection money from the people living on the outlying farms. If they refuse or are unable to pay, the bandits return within a few nights and slaughter everyone in the house.
Lucius, being a veteran of the German frontier and an educated man from a military family, detects a pattern in the raids and suggests a plan that would hopefully capture these men before they can strike again. His commanding officer scoffs and shoots down the idea, his attitude and general incompetency giving Lucius suspicions that there is something more going on.
To punish Lucius for daring to think that he knows better than his seniors, he is sent to a remote outpost. Rather than go, Lucius sends a detachment of his men to man the outpost and takes the rest of them back to the area that is being preyed upon.
Of course, his gamble pays off and he encounters and defeats the bandits. Who, to the surprise of absolutely no one, turn out to be legionnaires under the command of the senior centurion. Driven by a sense of honor that apparently precludes being clever about the political situations around him, Lucius marches the centurion and the surviving members of the criminal band to the capital, thereby getting in the middle of a political pissing match between Germanicus (Lucius' friend and political sponsor) and a man named Piso who is a smaller power in the area.
He subsequently is marched off to Judea to keep him out of the grasp of the men that he's angered. It all becomes rather terribly predictable just as soon as Lucius is saddled with a random Jewish-Roman citizen boy named Paullus who insists on being called Saul. By which I mean, Larkin takes an interesting premise of a historical novel - that of an honorable man surrounded by corruption in the military ranks - and starts shoe horning New Testament characters into it.
Lucius, dragging Paullus/Saul and his conveniently incredibly loyal Greek doctor with him, as well as his cohort of legionnaires, becomes enmeshed in the murder of a Roman senator near the small town of Nazarra. The senator, Silanus, had been sent to Judea to find out the truth of the visions that Tiberius Caesar's seers have been having about a threat growing in the area. We also encounter a man named Nahum, a mother and son duo named Miryam and Yeshua, a kind of bipolar seeming woman named Marah in Magdalah and two random fishermen, one of whom is named Simon.
Look, I wanted to like this book. I really did. Rome! It should be hard to screw that up! But. It kind of felt like Larkin couldn't decide what kind of a novel he wanted this to be, or he didn't bother to take the time to really fill in the story to make it interesting. It is *absolutely* possible to write Biblical fiction and make it vibrant and interesting. This was not that book.
My major problem, though, is with Lucius. Really. He's unreal. He is an unbelievable character. He's kind of perfect. Lucius is approaching Marty Sue territory. His 'one flaw' is that he's so honorable that he's stupid with it. This *entire* book is based on that fact. Luckily for him, he seems to have come by it honestly. We're given a little anecdote of his grandfather to explain where this
Which...okay. I get that the Eagle is important. As a much better book (and the movie) says:
'The eagle is lost, honor is lost, and if honor is lost, all is lost.' The Eagle is Rome. BUT. When the guy who is one of the rulers of Rome (at that point) and your commanding officer, thanks you personally for being a badass, you TAKE THE COMPLIMENT AND SHUT UP. Of course, Grandpa gets rewarded for this with a gold ring which he passes on down to Lucius. Lucius also inherits his grandpa's idiocy.
As for the rest of it. It could have been good. I kept thinking that it would get better. I mean after all, it has the potential to be really interesting, if it's well done. But it wasn't. It just wasn't.
If you want to read good Biblical fiction, I point you to The Red Tent by Anita Diamant.
If you want to read good fiction set in ancient Rome, let me direct you to The Eagle of the Ninth by Rosemary Sutcliff. It's a YA book, actually, but it's a fun, engaging book. There's also a movie based on it which I enjoyed immensely. *sighs at Channing Tatum as Marcus*
Or, if you enjoy mysteries, the Marcus Didius Falco series is one of my absolute favorites. Steven Saylor's Roma Sub Rosa series is another delightful mystery series set in ancient Rome.
Or, if you like to mix your Rome with some high fantasy, the Codex Alera series by Jim Butcher. It's a very clearly Roman based society, the reasons for which become clear throughout the series, but set in another world where the Romans have gained the ability to commune with and use creatures known as furies. There's also the giant-wolf creatures (Canim!), the Marat (Vikings!), and the
My tastes, they are random.
The Tribune = no stars. Not worth it, don't bother. Every other book I mentioned = go forth and read.