Galba’s Men is the second in the Four Emperor’s Series that started with Palatine (If you haven’t read it - it’s great) Many of the cast of characters from the first book play prominent roles, so I wouldn’t describe this as a standalone novel, although it is self contained.
You are thrust right from the start into the vicious and brutal Roman world of 68AD, six months after the death of Nero. Palace politics are portrayed with a combination of bawdy humour and pathos, but it is wonderfully observed with the daily details of daily roman life - rich and poor.
As the new emperor Galba deals with the chaos bequeathed by Nero, one Marcus Salvius Otho has his own ambitions on the imperial throne. Otho, and his schemer in chief Epaphroditus, go about garnering support for his plan - get Galba to adopt him - with joyous abandon, but Rome is a dangerous place where the wrong word can get you killed.
From the opening line: ‘It is generally agreed that the palace ran far better without an Emperor’, to the thrilling finale the novel is a gripping page turner. Even if you know the history, this really breathes life into it. Galba’s Men is not your bog standard roman military story, but something far more complex - if you are looking for battles and military strategy and tactics these books don’t do that, this is more House of Cards meets Spartacus.
The characters are engaging and the writing witty and erudite - Philo and Felix are my definite favourites - and there is a real sense of danger as the plots unravel, deaths, and bust-ups ensue. The confusion and chaos at the heart of a powerful empire is vividly portrayed, and Trafford’s descriptive prose in particular is a joy to read.
The historical detail is also something that has to be admired, too often anachronisms or just historical mistakes are the downfall of historical fiction, but the impeccable research that has gone into the novel really shines through. I can honestly say that I cannot wait for the next instalment in the series.