Scipio

ScipioHistorical fiction is really something that should never be confused with period Mills & Boon-type romances. The single sex scene and later, attempted sex scene in Scipio would disqualify it from that genre altogether, being mercifully brief and no mention of throbbing members or tools of love.

(Forgive me, it’s been a long time since I’ve read any historical romances and I’m, frankly, just making things up.)

Scipio is the second book in the trilogy by Ross Leckie. It is being re-issued by my employer, and I read Hannibal much earlier (November 2007). This tells the story of Publius Cornelius Scipio Africanus (Wikipedia), a great Roman general. He is the contemporary of Hannibal (Livius.org), and in Scipio we get to see the battles between Carthage and Rome from the other side.

As far as I can tell, without being immortal or knowingly reincarnated from Roman times, this is one heck of a realistic portrayal of life in the late BCs. It could be short and brutal. People certainly weren’t very different, though. Our capacity for evil deeds appears to be endless.

The story is told while Scipio is awaiting the results of his trial — or rather, the appeal by Cato (who really has it in for Scipio). As an elderly gent (although the history books say he died in his early fifties), he is reminiscing about the good and not-so-good events in his life.

I was waiting (and wasn’t disappointed, although disappointed is a really inappropriate word for this) for the Roman account of the rape and brutalisation of Similce, Hannibal’s wife — the single incident that sent him right over the edge. The battles of Cannae and Trasimene were described in an equally bloody manner, maybe worse (because the Romans were the losers).

The artistic licence of using Bostar (Hannibal’s former mapmaker, more on him below) as Scipio’s secretary in his twilight years was really necessary to tie the two men even more closely together (history indicates they may even have died in the same year). I couldn’t help but draw parallels between the two men as I went through the book. In their intelligence and war strategy, they seemed really evenly-matched. In their determination to subjugate one another, they were equals, too (Hannibal was driven by the death of his father, then his wife, and Scipio lost his father to Hannibal). They were contemporaries in almost every sense of the word.

The style of storytelling is different from that of Hannibal — Bostar is a major player in the first account, but it is very much Hannibal’s story. In Scipio, he is actually writing down Scipio’s words, and adding his own asides and stories when Scipio is otherwise occupied.

I’m keen to read Carthage, the concluding part of the trilogy. It tells the story of Hanno, Hannibal’s son. It’ll be published early next year, so hopefully I’ll get to read it in a few months’ time.