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Render Unto Caesar    by Gillian Bradshaw order for
Render Unto Caesar
by Gillian Bradshaw
Order:  USA  Can
Forge, 2004 (2003)
Hardcover, Paperback

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* * *   Reviewed by Hilary Williamson

This is the story of Hermogenes of Alexandria, Egypt. Though Greek in descent, Hermogenes is a rich businessman and a Roman citizen, who travels to the capital in order to settle a debt inherited from his dead uncle. Though the debtor is a powerful Roman consul who has reneged on payments, Hermogenes is determined to collect. It is a large sum but also a previous attempt at collection caused his father's death when his ship went down at sea. So Hermogenes heads to Rome, leaving behind in Alexandria his beloved daughter Myrrhine.

This is a time after Cleopatra's defeat when Romans feel superior to all foreigners, even to the highly civilized Greek Egyptians. In Rome, the Alexandrian stays with his father's old friend and fellow merchant Titus Crispus, a weak man who follows all the Roman fads. Hermogenes is a good man, kind to all around him, 'always liking people'. In Crispus' house, seeing the boy Hyakinthos who 'hates his master's bed', Hermogenes begins to wonder, for the first time, about the ethics of slavery.

After he attempts to collect the debt, and is met by excessive violence, Hermogenes realizes that he has become involved in a bigger political picture, and is out of his depth in very murky waters indeed. When his bodygoard is killed, the Alexandrian hires the woman, an ex-gladiator named Cantabra with hair 'the color of fire', who saved his life. This is when the tale really took off for me as I enjoyed this scarred Amazon, and the interplay between her and Hermogenes, very much.

Hermogenes deploys his resources - 'one fat timid businessman, one frightened slave, and one untried barbarian hireling' - against a trio of the rich and very powerful, friends of the Emperor Augustus. He ultimately agrees to bait a trap for two of them. There's a thrilling denouement, an unusual but touching romance, and a historical background that feels so real that you could step into it, fleas, lampreys and all. Gillian Bradshaw never disappoints and certainly not with Render Unto Caesar.

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