SJA Turney, writer of the well-loved and extensive Marius’ Mules series, has brought us the first in a new series, with a brand new hero and a new time period. Turney tells us in his author notes that he wanted to write a re-appraisal of an emperor that history has treated unkindly, and he settled on Commodus, the nemesis of Russell Crowe’s Gladiator. In Turney’s hands, Commodus is a much more sympathetic character, trying hard to follow the class act that was his father, Marcus Aurelius, one of Rome’s greatest ever emperors.
The hero of the tale however is Rufinus, a tough, brave and most importantly loyal young legionary who is promoted to the Praetorian Guard as a reward for an act of bravery. He is quickly earmarked for more clandestine work than simply being the Emperor’s bodyguard, and has to infiltrate a plot against the unsuspecting Commodus. Various dangerous encounters complicate his task, and soon he is in a race against time to save the Emperor’s life.
Praetorian has all the hallmarks of a great Simon Turney novel, excellent research, great story-telling bringing the period to life, a fast pace and an interesting new hero to root for. Great read.