A review that originally appeared in Black Static #9:-
Anno Mortis by Rebecca Levene
(Abaddon paperback, 358pp, £6.99)
You could be forgiven for thinking that Abaddon’s Tomes of the Dead releases have got out of sync with their titles. The last book in the series was called I, Zombie, bringing to mind Graves’ classic I, Claudius, but it’s this latest release that is set against the backcloth of the early Roman Empire, with Cl-Cl-Claudius given a bit part in the proceedings.
The year is 40AD and the mad Caligula is on the throne. Wannabe writer Petronius and barbarian gladiator Boda stumble across a plot by the Cult of Isis, led by the priestess Sopdet and writer Seneca, to open the gates of death and release the dead upon the world. The slave Narcissus also learns of the plot, but none of them can prevent disaster, despite the help of Boda’s enigmatic and mysterious countryman Vali. With an army of the living dead crowding at the walls of Rome, the four of them must venture down into the underworld to undo the damage and restore hope to the world, but it appears that neither Sopdet or Vali are who they claim to be, and something is going on that none of the others can begin to suspect.
Bottom line with this, it’s a fun book, with plenty of action and an ever escalating series of threats for the likable protagonists to deal with. From the early fights in the arena through to the shipboard brawl with inhuman guards, from a chariot race through the streets of Rome to a pitched battle with a zombie army, it never lets up for a moment, and concludes with an epic journey into the underworld, which was as distinctive and colourful as it was engaging. I’m not sure what an expert in comparative mythology would make of the mix and match mythology that underpins the story, but Levene did enough to make it credible for a dilettante such as myself. Similarly, while you’re probably not going to read this for the history, what she does give us of the ancient world is convincing enough to pass muster for all except the most informed. There’s some good, solid characterisation too. Petronius stands out, on the one hand a bit of a wastrel, but on the other he has the proverbial kind heart and grows morally during the course of the story, learning to question the assumptions of his class, while the burgeoning romance with Boda was a nice touch, two people who are complete opposites coming to respect and care for each other. Mad Caligula was a particular delight, willing to sacrifice the whole world to be reunited with his dead sister Drusilla, and with a hair trigger temper that could see anyone feeling his ire. In the modern world he would probably be an editor.
I had a good time with this and it keeps up the quality of Abaddon’s Tomes of the Dead series nicely.