A Gladiator Dies Only Once: The Further Investigations of Gordianus the Finder
© 2005 Steven Saylor
Although the meat of the Roma sub Rosa series is its novels, Steven Saylor also enjoys writing short stories set within it, as these allow him to explore elements of Rome that don’t justify an entire novel. They also allow him creative leeway, demonstrated nicely in The House of the Vestals, his first story collection, where he told a ghost story and used Egypt as the setting several times. This is the second and as far as I know final short story collection in the sub Rosa universe, with stories set between the Sullian dictatorship of Roman Blood and Cicero’s consulship in Catalina’s Riddle. Most of the stories are set very early in Gordianus’ career, before he and his wife were married and had established a family.
House of the Vestals established a patrician friend for Gordianus in the rotund shape of Lucius Claudius, and he appears in most of the nine stories here. The length of the stories varies: some, like “If Cyclopes Should Vanish in the Blink of an Eye” are short, while others are long. Through the course of them, Gordianus rubs shoulders with the best and worst of Rome, and does a little traveling (to Sicily, for instance) along the way. All of the stories were quite enjoyable, although a couple seemed a bit short — “The White Fawn” is an example of that. It is set in Spain, where Pompey the Great is attempting to subdue the last remnants of Marian’s forces, leftovers from the Roman Civil War who intend to make Spain the home of a new Roman republic. The “white fawn” is said to be a manifestation of the goddess Diana, who whispers advice into the rebel general’s ear. The stories are not only enjoyable, but paint vivid and informative pictures of historical Rome. This may be one of my favorites of Saylor’s works.