The Shards of Heaven #1 by Michael Livingston (Tor)

Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated on the senate floor, and the glory that is Rome has been torn in two. Octavian, Caesar’s ambitious great-nephew and adopted son, vies with Marc Antony and Cleopatra for control of Caesar’s legacy. As civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may shape the course of history.

Juba, Numidian prince and adopted brother of Octavian, has embarked on a ruthless quest for the Shards of Heaven, lost treasures said to possess the very power of the gods-or the one God. Driven by vengeance, Juba has already attained the fabled Trident of Poseidon, which may also be the staff once wielded by Moses. Now he will stop at nothing to obtain the other Shards, even if it means burning the entire world to the ground.

Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.

Michael Livingtson’s The Shards of Heaven reveals the hidden magic behind the history we know, and commences a war greater than any mere mortal battle.

But The Shards of Heaven adopts a different approach, choosing to weave a fresh and exciting original tale instead. In a very Assassin’s Creed way, is more about the conflict behind the scenes that has the power to shape history.  The book itself follows a Numidian Prince and adopted brother of Octavian Juba, who has begun a ruthless quest for the Shards of Heaven, fabled treasures which are said to possess the very power of the Gods. Already he has control of Poseidon’s Trident, which potentially doubles as Moses’ staff. However Juba is not the only one who is caught up in the hunt, because we also follow other characters like exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian, numerous spies and assassins, and even Cleopatra’s own 10 year old daughter. It’s a fascinating plot that blends the history with fantasy very well, making use of some strong, vivid imagination.

Livingston’s novel is a wonderful read, well written with some fantastic attention to detail and use of world building that doesn’t slow down the pace at all. We kick things off with the death of Caesar and the book skips forward several years. It’s an interesting way to kick things off as the legacy of Caesar is something that remains very much in the background of the novel. The rich period of history is brought to life in fascinating ways – we get a great understanding of politics and rivalries, with some fleshing out of not only Rome but also Egypt itself with some fantastic attention to true historical events, and it’s easy to see that Livingston certainly knows what he’s doing, handling established historical figures very well indeed, using the likes of Octavian, Antony and Cleopatra to great effect, going to great lengths to make them just as well-rounded, developed and as powerful as the lesser-regarded characters that we meet in the book.

The historical fantasy really reads well and provides a bold, exciting new start to the series that fans of the time period will love. It’s smart, complex and gets The Shards of Heaven series off to an exciting start and I really can’t wait to see what Livingston comes up with next in the sequel, The Gates of Hell, which comes out in November this year and I’ll certainly aim to read it as soon as possible because The Shards of Heaven just blew me away, making use of some excellent knowledge of Ancient Rome to weave the start of an epic from a brand new voice in the genre. If you you’re a fan of Assassin’s Creed, or Ridley Scott’s Gladiator, or anything from the likes of Simon Scarrow and Bernard Cornwell, The Shards of Heaven should be your sort of thing for sure.


VERDICT:
8.5/10

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