After a series of mysteries known collectively as Roma Sub Rosa
, starring Gordianus the Finder and taking place in the last decades of the Roman Republic, author Steven Saylor in his last book switched genres, so to speak, and did something of a reboot that isn't a reboot, in that he took his main character back to said character's youth (uncovered by the previous mystery novels) and basically wrote an entertaining travel book, The Seven Wonders
, which I reviewed here
and in which a young Gordianus does the grand tour of the ancient world.
Now, it turns out this was merely the beginning of a new series, because Saylor has published Raiders of the Nile
, which is a jolly good adventure story. (I have one nitpick, about which more in a minute, but hey.) Still starring a young and thus much more naive Gordianus, who now lives in Alexandria (where we left him in The Seven Wonders
), and goes through the type of plot that if you're familiar with Shakespeare's Comedy of Errors
and a few Plautus plays will resonate doubly, because Saylor has great fun paying homage to same: pirates, treasure, twins separated and reunited, assumed identities, and a grand climax with recognition scenes and every player showing up. What it isn't is a mystery, but then it never claims to be. In his afterword Saylor mentions needing an escape from the vicious world of Roman politics Gordianus is entangled with as a mature man, and I suspect he also needed a break from the mystery formula, because the last novel he wrote starring an older Gordianus, The Triumph of Caesar
, was barely one and the case solution owed nothing to detection.
Anyway, Raiders of the Nile
, like its predecessor, feels like a breath of fresh air. My one nitpick/complaint is continuity related, and it's not about the content as it is about what I missed. Because at the end of The Seven Wonders
Gordianus has just encountered Bethesda, the slave he'll later free and marry in the other series, and at the beginning of Raiders of the Nile
, they're already an established couple, and since the plot of Raiders
is kicked off by Bethesda getting kidnapped in a case of identity confusion, she's not very present in the rest of the novel, either. Because Bethesda is a vivid character but one that exists in a series of cameos in the Roma Sub Rosa
novels, I would have liked to get one novel where she shares an adventure as a major character, and I also can't help but feel Saylor is cheating a bit in letting young Gordianus angst somewhat through the novel on getting sexually and emotionally involved with a slave, something his father warned him against, but because Bethesda his hardly present in the novel avoiding her pov on this.
This being said, on its own merit, as mentioned, Raiders of the Nile
is simply great fun. It's also the third or so novel I've read where someone has designs on the body of Alexander the Great; I tell you, that man's corpse must have been the most irresistable for bodysnatchers in the ancient world. (And yes, our hero and the band of pirates he has to go undercover with in order to rescue his beloved have to break into the tomb first, which I can tell you because it's the opening scene of the book. Among other adventure tropes, "heist" is covered in this novel as well.) You can read it without knowing the Roma Sub Rosa
series, or even The Seven Wonders
, just on its own account. If you are
familiar with Saylor's other books, you'll recognize some archetypes - the charismatic, seductive yet also unreliable and ruthless leader (Catilina and Caesar say hello), the clever slave boy who becomes Gordianus' sidekick, for example - but circumstances are sufficiently different that this familiarity doesn't mean you'll know what will happen with these types. And Ptolemaic Egypt a few decades before the Roman takeover is such a fascinating place, which Saylor has great joy in conjuring up. Lastly: there is a scene where Gordianus has to choose between a crocodile and a lion. Because that's the type of novel we're in. Perfect if you need some distraction in historical surroundings and aren't in the mood for something heavy.