NEST OF VIPERS is the second book in the Empress of Rome series. Author Luke Devenish has a resume that seems to hint at an ability to build a fantasy world. A novelist, screenwriter, playwright and Lecturer, Devenish was a Script Producer with Neighbours and a writer on Home and Away. Ancient Rome in Devenish's hands is a complicated, gory, deadly, lustful, obsessive place full of elaborate and complicated characters (maybe that's where the Neighbours and Home and Away comparisons have to stop...although I'd expect that comment's going to get me more hate mail).
NEST OF VIPERS comes with a media release opening line of "Sex, Murder and Intrigue in Ancient Rome", and that's about the right order if you look at it as a list of ingredients.
Devenish has built an incredibly detailed, rich version of Ancient Rome, an astounding place, populated by an equally astounding number of quite unpleasant characters. The three main characters in this book - locked in a lethal rivalry are not above using anybody or anything to advance their own causes. But it is not just Agrippina, Apicata and Livilla who are manoeuvring, there are equally elaborate machinations going on amongst the slave populations of Rome and within the male leadership group.
Not having read the first book of this series definitely seemed to leave me at somewhat of a loss as I struggled to work out who was who, what sides everyone was on and where the relationships and power-bases fitted together.
Aside from that slight confusion it has to be said - there are elements of the sex and violence in this book that aren't for the faint hearted. This is a no holds barred use of sex, violence, manipulation, cruelty and intrigue that people more used to a slightly less confrontational version of Ancient Rome might find a little unpalatable. Having said that, there's quite a feeling of reality, albeit a very unpalatable reality, about the society in which NEST OF VIPERS takes place.
I will confess to not being much of a fan of Ancient Rome epics, and there were some aspects of NEST OF VIPERS that gave me a few problems - it seemed that the sex and sexual violence was dwelt upon, almost revelled in a little too much, and to be frank, I got hopelessly lost in the names of people for a while until I finally managed to get it all straight in my own aging brain. The Empress of Rome series would definitely, however, be a set of books for any reader who loves this period of time, and is comfortable with some overt sexual violence, manipulation and confrontation in their historical worlds.