Review: The City War by Sam Starbuck


Rating: 4.25 stars

Senator Marcus Brutus is finding it perilous times to be a Senator in Rome, especially one not lined up behind Caesar.  Caesar is making moves to get rid of the Republic and crown himself Emperor of Rome and that is something Marcus Brutus just  cannot abide.  Brutus has devoted his life as has his family to the Republic of Rome and to see it demolished under Caesar sickens him. When he retreats to his country estate with his brother-in-law and lover, Cassius, he knows that there are hard decisions to be made and soon if the Republic is to be saved.

Cassius has pulled his long time lover, Marcus, out of Rome for a purpose. There is a mutiny brewing in Rome and he is part of it.  Even his sister agrees that something must be done about Caesar and soon if the Republic is to survive.  Now to make Marcus Brutus understand how necessary is the course of action Cassius and others have planned, as well as the major role Brutus is to play. And he hopes their love is strong enough to survive what he intends to throw before it.

Tiresias claims to be an orphaned boy when he meets Brutus on the road to his country estate.  But looks can be deceiving especially when the boy looks as delectable as Tiresias.  Tiersias appears before Brutus on a gorgeous animal and states that all the horses that Brutus owns should look as good.  And of course, Marcus Brutus is hooked, hiring the young man and sending him on ahead to the estate.  In one move, Brutus has captured Tiresias’ heart and loyalty as Tiresias has captured his.

All three men will face the toughest decisions of their lives as Caesar’s ambitions start to cause even the sanest of Senators to think the unthinkable. Cassius will ask everything of the man he has loved since childhood.  Tiresias will follow Marcus Brutus back to Rome and perhaps his death.  And Marcus Brutus?  He faces the loss of everything he loves. The Republic of Rome, his lover Cassius, the young boy who idolizes him and even the man who protected him when others would have put him to death – Caesar himself.

If you love history, especially the era of ancient Rome, this is the book for you.  Sam Starbuck takes a well known historical fact, the assassination of Caesar and the well known “Et tu, Brutus?” and makes it all so relatable as well as the human actions that set it in motion.  This is the assassination as seen from Marcus Brutus’ anguished perspective and a needed reminder that there are always more than one way to look at history.  Sam Starbuck has done, as he relates in his blog, his research and it certainly shows.  He makes Rome and its countryside come alive again as well as the incidents some might know only from the dusty tomes of history.

Into the tale of deceit and conspiracy, Starbuck weaves the story of the romance between Cassius and Brutus, a long established affair that is even given support by their wives.  This is really not a far fetched idea as a well known quote about Caesar (from one of his many enemies) was that Caesar was a “husband to every wife and a wife to  every husband”, which meant that Caesar himself entertained men as well as women sexually.  Here homosexuality had not yet been demonized by Christianity and the taking of male lovers was almost a given, albeit with some strict behavioral guidelines.  And this includes the mentor/young man sexual relationship which is mentioned here with regard to two couples.  The first is Aristus, former tutor and publican, now old friend of Marcus Brutus the younger.  They have an established sexual relationship in which Aristus mentored  Brutus in the ways of homosexual love, which ended when Brutus was no longer his student (in every respect).  The second  relationship of a similar manner is that between Marcus Brutus and Tierisias. While certainly a deeper relationship emotionally, at least on Tiresias’ side, it is still in keeping with the older man benefactor/young student or recipient bond.  I never felt that their connection was deeper than that, at least on Brustus’ part.

And really that is the heart of my quibbles with this wonderful in every other respect story.  I loved The City War as an intimate look into the events leading up to the assassination of Caesar from the POV of the main conspirator.  But as a m/m romance, that is a much harder sell.  The long standing sexual affair between Cassius and Brutus has all the elements of two men who know each other intimately inside and out.  They have been through war campaigns together and lasted through their marriages, even to the sister of one of them. So I kept waiting to feel a equally intimate connection between them, one born of romantic love and not that of brothers in arms.  And I never felt it.  Or bought into it.  And I think that is perhaps far more realistic a take on their relationship than that of two men deeply in love with one another.

And that carries over to the relationship between Brutus and Tiresias. That is a relationship of unequals, as it has to be.  Roman society as well as Roman thought would not allow it to be anything else.  There is an equally surprising factor about Tiresias that I felt the author handled beautifully and with great respect.  This was so well done that I want to give Sam Starbuck a little extra kudos for the character and Tiresias’ back history.  Really, Tiresias is one of the most interesting characters you will meet between these pages.  Really, he is a lovely surprise that gives this already fascinating story a added dimension.

At 123 pages, The City War is a quick yet well researched look into one of history’s most infamous moments.  I thought Sam Starbuck did a wonderful job here and look forward to his next story.  This is part of the Warriors of Rome series from Riptide Publishing.  So if history, gladiators, Rome and everything in between is your thing, run out and pick this one up.  Continue on to the rest of the series and settle down for a great trip back in time to the golden age of Rome.