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A Mist of Prophecies
By Steven Saylor
“The last time I saw Cassandra… I was about to say: the last time a saw Cassandra was on the day of her death. But that would be untrue. The last time I saw her – gazed upon her face, ran my fingers over her golden hair, dared to touch the cold cheek – was on her funeral day.”
Thus begins the strange story of Cassandra as related by Gordianus the Finder, in Steven Saylor's ninth book in his Roma Sub Rosa series.
The place is Rome, the time the year 48 BCE. Caesar has crossed the Adriatic Sea to confront Pompey. Gordianus' son Meto is still in Caesar's entourage, and still disowned by Gordianus. Back home, his wife Bethesda is stricken with a mysterious debilitating illness, and Gordianus is officially retired. He calls the times “impious days, when men scorn the gods and the gods scorn us in return.” Thus he sets the scene for another dark novel, albeit not as bleak as his most recent one, Last Seen in Massilia, I'm glad to report.
Cassandra had appeared in Rome from nowhere, and it seemed she could foretell the future during strange spells. Then one day, in the market place, she collapses into Gordianus' arms while he is shopping with wife and daughter, and with her last gasp tells him that she has been poisoned. No one claims her body, and Gordianus takes it on himself to provide for her funeral. And now, something strange happens: a number of influential Roman matrons, past and present, attend the funeral rites: Terentia, wife of Cicero; Antonia and Cytheris, wife and mistress respectively of Mark Antony; Fulvia, widow to Clodius and Curio; Fausta, daughter of Sulla and wife of Milo; Calpurnia, wife of Caesar; and Clodia, known to us from prior encounters with Gordianus and generally shunned by society.
Gordianus, in his bleak mood, has to be prodded by his daughter Diana to come out of his despondency and retirement and undertake the task solve the murder of Cassandra, which she suspects was done by one of those women. And thus unfolds the story of the life and death of Cassandra, between flashbacks of Gordianus' encounters with Cassandra and his interviews of the women, and fascinating interviews they are!
It becomes a story of love, a story of deceit and intrigues. There are also Milo and Caelius, the former having illegally returned from his exile in Massilia which Caesar had refused to lift, the latter starting his own intrigues in Rome. They meet their ignominious deaths in the end of course.
It would spoil the suspense to divulge more.
Steven Saylor is at his best here, and his style of writing is better than ever. And there will be more: Having solved the murder, Gordianus is ready to undertake a journey: to Egypt, the only place which his Egyptian born wife thinks will cure her of her illness. Caesar, having beaten Pompey, is on his way to Egypt too, so we can confidently look forward to another intrigue and murder to be solved by Gordianus . . .
And before I forget: Gordianus ends up with yet another adopted son, Rupa, the deaf-mute brother of Cassandra.
© 2002 Irene B. Hahn
A Mist of Prophecies
by Steven Saylor
Hardcover, 288 pages
Minotaur Books, 1st edition (May 2002)
List Price US$24.95
Other books in the Roma Sub Rosa Series
Roma: The Novel of Ancient Rome
Steven Saylor's Website
Articles & Essays by group members & friends
Roman History Reading Group