Mark Antony, or Marcus Antonius as he was more correctly named, was known for many things: friend of Julius Caesar, lover of Cleopatra, heroic general, enemy of Octavian. When Brook Allen’s new novel came out, I jumped on it, realizing I knew nothing about his younger years. In book one of this biographical fiction trilogy, the author gives us a troubled, unhappy youth who picks up plenty of bad habits early on. I didn’t realize he was the son of a traitor and stepson of another traitor; no wonder he was so rudderless. Gambling, drinking, and borrowing money from a loan shark was enough to get him into serious, near fatal difficulties, and those around him suffered for his irresponsibility. Overwhelmed by his misadventures, he was rescued by his cousin Julius Caesar who funded his education and a trip out of town, as long as he stayed out of trouble and proved himself worthy. Luckily, he had just enough sense to do the right thing and he was soon noticed by Proconsul Gabinius, who needed a commander for cavalry on his upcoming campaign to Syria. Untried, outranked by others, Marcus nonetheless managed to prevail on Gabinius to give him a commission. Our hero had taken his first step toward greatness.
Brook Allen has written this story so well that it’s difficult to determine what came out of the history books and what came out of her head. It was all believable; and many nights, right before bed, I had trouble putting it down. The action scenes were full of imagery, clamor, and turbulence:
That’s when it happened. Two Hasmoneans came out of nowhere and attacked on his shield side, spooking his horse and nearly throwing him to the ground. One of the bastards managed to hang on to his saddle girth, about to stab his horse and bring it down. Marcus dropped the wineskin, cursing. His helmet clanked to the ground, and he snatched his reins. The second attacker grabbed at his shield, immobilizing it. Unable to use it to either offensively strike out or defend himself, it was useless.
His life was over. One moment of weakness, wanting a drink, and that was it.
With one arm still sheathed in the shield that his enemy was clutching, his other hand was busy with the reins. Terrified, his horse squealed in panic, rearing. There was no way Marcus could fight them off—except with his left leg. He kicked out as hard as he could, and the man trying to knife his horse missed. Marcus’s leg took the blow instead.
Strange. It didn’t really hurt at first. It just felt like a swift kick in the calf.
Courageous, burly, intrepid, our Marcus soon proved himself to friends and enemies alike. By the time he reached Alexandria and helped put Ptolemy—Cleopatra’s father—back on the throne, he had accomplished what he set out to do. Now it was time to find Caesar. Bring it on, Volume two!