Reviewed by Ian Lipke
Heroes in literature, flawed though their personalities might be, usually follow a personal honour code. They are most often the main character of a literary work who, eschewing or disregarding injury or death, combat adversity through feats of human courage or the application of intellectual reasoning. These are sufficient to bring the villain to justice. In classical times the goal of the exercise in which the hero took the lead was often wealth or pride or fame. Such motives are more likely to be found in modern day villains, not heroes. But what of Ancient Rome?
What do we make, then, of Robert Fabbri’s Magnus, leader of the Crossroads Brotherhood? He commands a gang made up of some of the most twisted, morally corrupt, and evil human beings. He owes his existence and the success of his criminal activities to a Senator of Rome, one of the elite during much of the reigns of Tiberius, Caligula and Claudius. His oily influence is not as upfront as that revealed by Magnus, but is equally dirty. Of course the author is describing for his readers the Roman world in its final corruption.
Magnus represents the world of the inhabitants of Rome during these reigns. The book is described as part of the Vespasian series, the period known as the Flavian dynasty, rulers of the Empire from AD 69 to AD 96, and in particular, the reign of Vespasian from AD 69 – AD 79. However, it has nothing to do with the Emperor Vespasian. The book predates this period. If I’ve sorted it out, the story series begins with the arrival in Rome of Vespasian, not as emperor but as a soon-to-be inhabitant.
No doubt the author has it all sorted out in his mind but a reader is likely to be soon lost trying to shed the misleading descriptor “part of the Vespasian series”. I found this insertion very frustrating. Historically, the period AD 25 – AD 51, identified as the chronology of action, was an age of murder, violence and mayhem. Even the least read knows of the depths of human depravity that describe the reigns of especially Caligula and Nero. The fictional Magnus is a major force among the underbelly of Rome, his power inviolate under the protection of Vespasian’s uncle, Senator Gaius Vespasius Pollo, the crooked senator alluded to above.
So, the stage is set. A chain of command has been established. Ostensibly, Magnus is the chief of a band of scoundrels, who in turn have not been crushed by the military authorities because Magnus has powerful, but always hidden, protection. The argument that the Brotherhood’s activities could in fact have happened in the historical Rome is not difficult to accept.
The classical conception of a leader, one who pursued wealth or pride or fame, are on display in Fabbri’s Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood. The never-ending pursuit of wealth and the constant insertion of one’s power over everybody else, are laid bare. Fabbri shows what happens to leaders when they succumb to evil or amorality. Senator Pollo and Magnus and his Brotherhood fit the scholarship on this period in history. In short, what Fabbri has given us is an accurately penned description of the city of Rome under the successive regimes.
That is not to say that the book makes interesting reading. The text consists of a number of short stories beginning in AD 25 and covering, in a series of tales, the period to AD 51. Cunning and spite characterise Magnus, and this picture is consistent across all five tales. For this reviewer consistency is a powerful positive force, but equates with repetition in this book. Each subsequent tale differs little from the first – different scenario, same response is not too harsh a comment. I should add that I have read most of Fabbri’s full length novels and, in the main, enjoyed them. Occasionally I was bored with small sections of the books, but was happy, overall, to read the Fabbri productions.
It devastates me to have to say that Magnus and the Crossroads Brotherhood was a mistake from its very conception. It gives the impression that Fabbri had made a decision that his audience would be prepared to accept left-overs, clobbered together from previously unusable portions of his novels. Nearly 400 words, that form a primer in violence and evil, were unable to retain my interest.
I cannot recommend this book.
By Robert Fabbri
Corvus/Allen & Unwin
$39.99; 384pp (Hardback)