The title says "judgment," but this book is really all about forgiveness (more about that later). Gordianus and Bethesda, along with the two little slave boys, Mopsus and Androcles, and the newest member of the household, Rupa, set off to Egypt to find a cure for Bethesda's mysterious illness. She is now convinced that only bathing in the Nile will save her. I think if she lived in our time she'd be one of those people who's really into alternative medicine.
But their ship gets attacked by Pompey's forces, and when he discovers that Gordianus is on board, well let's just say he promises there will be hell to pay. He's still holding a grudge for what Gordianus did in Rubicon. But though it looks bad, Gordianus doesn't have long to worry, as Pompey himself is soon killed by the orders of King Ptolemy's eunuch, Plothinus. Gordianus and Pompey's wife Cornelia look helplessly on.
But oh dear, I get ahead of myself. Before Pompey dies, Cornelia gives Gordianus a vial of poison, telling him basically that it would be better for him to kill himself than to face what Pompey's got in store for him. Nope, this bottle won't come back to haunt Gordianus later. No sirree. No blatantly obvious plot points here! Move along.
|The best pic I could find of Cleopatra.|
Okay, so she's no Liz Taylor. But I think
she'd be alright with a little makeup,
don't you agree?
So now, Gordianus is miserable. He thinks his wife is dead, he still hasn't recovered from disowning Meto two books before, and now he's facing the fact that Caesar is in Egypt with Meto and somehow he's going to have to tell him his mother is dead. But the really strange thing, and this is where the book's believability really starts to break down for me, is that Caesar winds up inviting Gordianus to dinner and taking a really personal interest in trying to mend his relationship with Meto. At which point I started scratching my head and going, "what?".
So I should probably say that I've never really had a problem before with the way Saylor has his original characters interact with historical characters. It was always done just organically enough to be believable. Sure, I can buy Gordianus having a complicated, long term relationship with Cicero (okay, that sounded gayer than I really intended). He met Cicero at the start of his career before he hit the big time, and it worked. I could buy him working for Crassus. Sure, Crassus would hire a cheap nobody from the Subura to investigate a case he didn't really care about anyway. Anyone better would have cost him more money than he'd want to pay, no doubt. Him working for Pompey? That might have been a bit much, but since Pompey was looking to Cicero as an ally and while by this point Gordianus and Cicero had had more than their fair share of differences, I could still believe the idea of Cicero giving Gordianus a decent reference. So to speak.
Now, his interactions with Caesar before were mostly brief and occurring in the context of him visiting his son, and that worked fine. I do have a bit of a problem with Meto being portrayed so much as being Caesar's right hand man (not only helping him write his memoirs, but also acting as his spy), just because if Caesar had really had someone like that under him, we'd probably know about him. And as far as I know, we don't. I mean, I'm sure Caesar did have spies and probably an educated slave or freedman who helped him with his memoirs. But probably not the same person. But Meto's being so close to Caesar didn't bother me before either, because even though it was mentioned from time to time, it hadn't really become a major point around which the plot turned.
Except for now. Caesar is actually a full-blown character in his book, unlike the brief drive-bys we had before. And like I said, he takes way more interest in Gordianus' and Meto's father/son relationship than is credible to me. Like seriously, he's the dictator of Rome and seeking to essentially make Egypt a client state of Rome. I think he's got other things on his mind. His interest in Gordianus just seems contrived.
|Cleopatra and Caesar|
I probably should mention at this point that there actually is a murder mystery involved, and it concerns Meto as the suspect. It shouldn't surprise anyone that Gordianus forgives Meto as soon as he's in serious danger. I mean, there seriously was never any doubt that was going to happen, right? Gordianus is a softie. He's a softie practically even by modern day standards, and certainly by Roman ones. Which brings us circuitously back to what I see as the main theme of the book: forgiveness. Gordianus forgives Meto, Meto forgives Caesar for suspecting him. Which brings me to...the ending. Oy vey. The ending.
Well. Gordianus sees what he thinks is Bethesda in the market, and persuades the rest of his family to leave Alexandria without him so he can track her down on his own. He winds up plunging into the Nile where his wife did...and dies? Passes out? Is reborn? Who knows. I think he meets his wife in the water and passes out and wakes up on the shore or something. It's all very spiritual and nonsensical and probably symbolic. Anyway, he's alive, his wife is alive and seemingly in much better health, and all is well. And I was sitting there feeling very confused.
So this is what I think. I think that Bethesda's illness was psychosomatic, brought on by stress over Gordianus' rejection of Meto. Then Gordianus forgave Meto, which enabled Bethesda to magically get well again. Or something. This kind of stuff makes my head hurt, annoys me, and makes me wish for a normal ending that makes sense. And seriously? Baptismal imagery? So overdone.