Bring a massive saga to a close.
Forget, if you can, all of the stories that you've read or seen about the fabled queen of the nile, cleopatra, the last pharaoh of egypt. try if you can, not to see her as a voluptuous elizabeth taylor or enchanting vivien leigh or as some grand beauty. she's not in these pages. not at all. instead, colleen mccullough's final epic in her multivolume tale of the end of the roman republic takes an entirely new spin on the story. nor does she forget the rest of the vivid cast that populate the story, from octavian -- now calling himself caesar -- and his sister, octavia, and mark antony, julius caesar's former friend and now determined to make himself just as great as slain dictator. but there are plenty of minor players as well, and all of them are given a voice in this sprawling novel that travels from rome to egypt, the mountains of armenia and as far as parthia in the east. the novel covers from antony and cleopatra?s fateful meeting in ephesus, and goes all the way to the final, fateful end for both of them. while the story is certainly familiar, in mccullough?s capable hands, it takes on entirely new forms. most of all it?s octavian that takes center stage, evolving into the man that history considers the first emperor of rome, and his friendship with marcus agrippa. there?s also his family, namely the two vital women in his life ? octavia, who might understand octavian better than anyone, and the very clever livia drusilla, who most readers will remember from the 70?s bbc series, i, claudius. so begins a war of wills and manipulation by one of the more famous romantic couples in history. mccullough creates some of the most unusual characters that i've come across in a long time, and ones that forced me to fling aside all of my preconcieved notions of this often told story. there are battles, conspiracies, romance, conniving, and some outrageous puns, all dished up in mccullough's style. this novel fits in very neatly with the rest of the series, and it's a grand, eye-opening adventure for the reader. while some of the action in the book is rather compressed -- most of the battles, including that of actium towards the end -- the psychological base and giving a new spin on history is top notch. this is what i really like about this series by mccullough. it's subtle, engaging and while she's not adverse about putting a bit of creativity in the story, she also knows her facts. it's here that makes her storytelling so good -- she creates characters that the reader can feel deeply about, and while you might not like them personally, they are compelling. along the way, there's plenty of details about daily life, the way that the ancients looked at the world around them, and some deeply moving prose. indeed, one of scenes of the book is so heartbreaking that i broke down in tears. i don't do that very often and i had to set the book down and walk away for a moment before continuing to read. for those who have managed to stay with the series from the begining, this one provides an adequate tying up of a lot of the loose strings from the previous work, the october horse. while this book, as with all of the others, can stand well on its own, it really does help to know some of the previous action of the story. if the reader is already fond of novels set in ancient rome, this is simply one of the best. a wonderful conclusion to the series, and worth the effort that it takes to get through it. five stars, and highly recommended, as are all of the masters of rome series.