Brothers: Of Britons and Romans
by M. E. Taylor
BookVenture Publishing LLC

"'My word to you is that I intend to escape from you at the earliest opportunity. Is that clear enough for you?'"

Lucius Marcius lives with his family in Britain in a kind of exile after displeasing the Emperor. He oversees the creation and growth of villages along with the collection of tributes from the Britons. After the death of his eldest son, Lucius’ younger son Gaius becomes withdrawn and somber. A chance encounter with a mysterious boy fishing on the edge of their property enraptures Gaius, and he becomes obsessed with the idea of having this untamed Briton as his new brother, refusing to eat and becoming sickly until his dreams are made manifest. A misunderstanding in orders leads to Lucius’s steward seizing the boy and branding him as a slave when the boy’s mother refuses to sell him to Lucius. Lashing out, the boy escapes within days and is not seen for years.

Nearly a decade later, Lucius’s brother Marcus, a legate, is victorious against the wanted thief and rebel Cunobarrus. Thinking he has left no prisoners from the battle, he then finds a man clinging to life with his weapon buried in a dead tribune. Marcus recognizes the mark of his brother and seeks to discover who this man is and how his escaped slave ended up in among the ranks of Cunobarrus. Lucius is mortified to learn that the man is Verluccus, the very same escaped slave that was unknowingly made into an enemy of Lucius and everything he stands for in an instant. While he seems like a problem best eliminated, Gaius puts his foot down and asserts his claim to ownership of Verluccus, insisting that he knew that their fates were intertwined. Verluccus seeks for opportunities to escape or kill Gaius, but upon learning that Cunobarrus may yet live, he agrees to serve Gaius in order to curry favor with the fates to protect his brother. What forms is a surprising bond between the two young men, placing Verluccus in a precarious position between his Roman oppressors and his native Britons.

Built out of a strong foundation of history, this work of fiction follows the intrigues and drama of the Marcius family, particularly as it revolves around the contentious bond between Gaius Marcius and Verluccus. There is much examination of life as a slave in the Roman Empire and of masters both cruel and kind. Given its ancient setting, there is, naturally, little discussion of the morality of owning, buying, or selling slaves, but the undue stress and anguish caused by those wrapped up in the slave trade are apparent, and readers will be required to stomach those realities in order to appreciate the rebellious circumstances of young Verluccus. At the same time, when Verluccus’ loyalties begin to shift, the audience is similarly tasked to understand the growth of the character and how one could come to respect a man that claims to own him.

Questions of perspective aside, the story has a rich cast of characters that react with interesting realism to the situations that surround them. As the story opens, we see Lucius as short-tempered, a victim of circumstance who has grown tired of not calling the shots in his own life. Within mere pages, however, we see his better qualities: how he believes those loyal to him should be treated with respect and dignity and works to improve the livelihood of the villages under his control, despite the potential for a conqueror/conquered dynamic. Verluccus goes through a similar transition, though one that spans the length of the entire book. His quest for bloodshed and revenge seems like a natural if not crazed response to his abduction from his own home, but as his full story is revealed, the reader learns how he comes by the nickname Verluccus the Bloodspiller while also seeing how he yearns to shed his anger for a simpler, fulfilled life.

The story is thorough and rich with detail, and those who can face uncomfortable truths about history and human behavior will be rewarded with a narrative that is deep and immersive from the first chapter to the last. Readers will be oft-surprised about which characters they find themselves empathizing with or rooting for and how quickly a handful of small, intelligent details on behalf of the author’s imagination can shift those allegiances.

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