The subtitle says it all: "The Novel of Ancient Rome". Not "A novel", THE novel! The boast is not unfounded.
Stephen Saylor steps through almost a thousand years of Roman history in a series of vignettes. In each one, we experience a pivotal moment in the life of Rome through the perspective of a different person. Sometimes I empathized with the character; at other times, I felt he or she was in the wrong.
I'm used to historical fiction that takes place in a single period of time, investing itself heavily in a single cast of characters. This was a nice change, and Saylor obviously made the effort to research thoroughly. The format allows the reader to see the evolution of Roman civilization, its transition from kingdom to republic to empire. The actions and speeches of persuasive individuals leave a mark on Rome and the world.
At times it was dry and somewhat boring; at other times it was exciting. If you don't like historical fiction, this book won't change your opinion. But for those die-hard historical fiction lovers, this is a must-read.