LUST. LOVE. REVENGE. COMING-OUT. An emperor's search for love destroys the very person he most adores. Crime/mystery/romance historical fiction based upon real events and characters of pagan Rome. Set two centuries before Rome's recognition of Christians, it is an era of intrigue, torrid relations, raging ambition, wild sensuality, & unconventional love. Caesar Hadrian's 'favorite' is found one dawn beneath the waters of the River Nile. Is it a prank gone wrong, a suicide, murder, or something far more sinister? Barrister & historian, Suetonius Tranquillus, & his upmarket courtesan companion Surisca are allowed two days to uncover the truth on pain of penalty. They discover more than they bargained for ...
I really enjoyed this book for several reasons - what an ambitious debut. You don't see such a debut very often.
What this clearly is not is an m/m romance. It's an at times very scholarly historical crime novel focusing on the death of the emperor's lover. So, uhm, not much m/m romance there. It does have some issues - the POV seems a bit random at times and the research is showing. There are too many places where the characters feel like mouthpieces talking about their time and culture in ways I felt were just to give the reader background.
HOWEVER, it's an engaging read - as a crime investigation, it clearly works. Cut the self-conscious history, straighten the POV, reduce the cast of investigators by two characters that never got the ability to shine anyway, and you have a solid five star read.
This is difficult to review, because while I can absolutely appreciate the amount of research Gardiner did in order to write this book, the style in which it's written does nothing for me. Research in fiction is like an iceberg - only 10% of it should show - and the interesting murder-mystery in this book gets bogged down by the sheer amount of 'telling'.
Stylistically, it's all over the place. First person to limited third to omniscient third, headhopping, inconsistent application of Greek and Latin spellings, the odd decision to italicise words in common usage (house, patron, favourite, priapic), the even odder use of anachronistic words (heck, demi monde), purple prose, lack of distinction amongst character voices (necessary when writing about a large cast), passive voice (I could make a case for the use of passive voice in some sections of the story but overall it had a very distancing effect), and yes, worst of all was the habit of 'telling' rather than 'showing', especially when random excurses appeared and slowed the storyline yet further.
A good editor could do marvels with this (in all seriousness it could be cut by half and still retain all the elements of the murder-mystery). As I said, I can't fault the research and The Hadrian Enigma is clearly a labour of love. What is at fault is the style, which turned me right off. IMO it would work better as a fictionalised biographical enquiry than it does as a m/m romance.
In many ways, Hadrian Enigma is simply a historical “murder mystery” seen through the eyes of a most unusual PI, the historian Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus. This novel, by the way, is rather a lengthy tome.
In 130 AD, while accompanying the Emperor Hadrian on a tour up the Nile, the beautiful youth Antinous plunges into the Nile and drowns. Hadrian, near maddened with grief, declares Antinous a god. However, Suetonius just happens to be along on this imperial tour. Already the author of juicy books on contemporary Roman life, he is perfectly placed to investigate this mysterious death, so Emperor Hadrian commands him to investigate and find the murderer within 48 hours or suffer the consequences.
In the imperial compound on the Nile, Suetonius searches for clues. Here, semi-isolated, the bubbling cauldron of the Roman court has been transplanted to a fabulous tent city. Yet, the mystery of Egypt is an ever present backdrop to this baffling death.
Perhaps the murderer is one of the other ephebes with whom Antinous shared quarters. They have reason enough for jealousy of the emperor's beloved eromenos. But there are plenty of other possible suspects and witnesses in the royal court: the Empress Sabina, Hadrian's flamboyant heir-apparent Lucius, and a whole coterie of scheming courtiers, not to mention the creepy Egyptian high priest.
Why was Antinous clad in heavy ceremonial parade armor and weapons when he died? How did he come by a slit on his left wrist and strange marks on his throat? And how can Suetonius unravel all this when the Emperor refuses to let Suetonius even touch the body to examine it?
The characterization is vivid and the historicity meticulous in this novel. I enjoyed savoring the characters and setting as Suetonius unraveled the imperial goings on. Some might find themselves impatient with the sprinkling of Greek and Latin throughout the novel. I thought it added to the impact and feeling of being there, but I suspect not everyone would enjoy the necessity to look some of it up. There were also moments when the author slipped into modern jargon which was jarring.
All in all, it was an enjoyable read, but not necessarily a light or fast one in spite of being rather a page turner. The ending, which I won't go into, is satisfying and well worth the journey.
Definitely a four-star read. I recommend it to any historical fiction fan, especially any fan of the redoubtable Mary Renault.
I wanted to like this book. However, the author's mash of purple prose, constantly shifting tenses, strangely italicized words, and a number of glaring historical inaccuracies made my effort to just go along with the story absolutely impossible. And that's a shame, because the premise is so fantastic that it would have taken a considerable effort to screw it up.
The premise is this: Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, author of The Twelve Caesars, is present in Egypt when Hadrian's young lover Antinous drowns in the Nile. Hadrian commissions Suetonius--currently in Imperial disfavor for allegedly being too familiar with Empress Sabina--to find out exactly how Antinous met his end. And he has only forty-eight hours in which to do it; if he fails, Hadrian might decide to prosecute him for the old charge, or worse.
Sounds great, right? The real Suetonius did fall out of favor with Hadrian. Moreover, he traded in royal gossip, the juicier the better. How could a writer miss this opportunity? Well, this author does. Gardiner never met an adjective or adverb he didn't like, and crams the text with paragraphs of mind-numbingly purple prose that slows the action like a flow of molasses. I don't want to see Suetonius bogged down in a ridiculous brothel scene and reminiscing about this or that--get him into Hadrian's tent ASAP and get this story moving!
Gardiner gets dates wrong (Julius Caesar was in Bithynia more than 150 years before the novel, not a century), and when it comes to Antinous, he resorts to a tactic I often see in M/M erotica--he ages Hadrian's lover up five years so that Antinous was a consenting eighteen when his affair with the Emperor began, and twenty-three when he dies. Which is absurd, because the historical Antinous was clearly an adolescent when the affair began, and tensions arose as he became a man.
Want to read a far superior book about an investigation into Antinous's death? Ben Pastor's The Water Thief is the gold standard when it comes Hadrian/Antinous mysteries. Again, I have to reiterate how much I would have relished a good Suetonius mystery.
I don't know whether Gardiner had an editor, but this book clearly needs one.
Hadrian and Antinous is one of the great true love stories of gay history, so anything to do with it is sure to get my attention. This is a difficult book to rate, because it seems to try to cross genres and doesn't do it very successfully. Still, it is obviously a very well-researched story.
At its heart, The Hadrian Enigma is a mystery about the death of Antinous, and on that score it's a good mystery, although not a great one. There are lots of suspects - perhaps too many - and red herrings galore. But for me, a great mystery has to keep me guessing until the very end, and on that score the book fails. While some of the details of how and why are only revealed at the very end, it still becomes pretty clear about two-thirds of the way in who the people responsible for the death are, yet the Special Inspector Seutonious seems to miss all the clues and fumbles about at the very end before figuring it out. The ending is played out in true Hercule Poirot fashion, with all the suspects gathered together while Seutonious accuses each in turn of being involved before finally stumbling on to the truth.
The love between Antinous and Hadrian is key to the story and understanding how Antinous died. We're given lots of examples to illustrate how the bond between these two developed, and how strong it was. But it's all told in the third person, so if you're looking for a bit of historical romance, I'd say this book is not for you.
I had some issues with the writing of this book. The author affects a very florid style, which while no doubt true to the period, is still a little bit hard to read at times. We're also given lengthy introductions to everybody in a room, even though some of them never seem to actually speak or play any part in the story. As it is, there are probably too many characters, so it gets a bit confusing trying to figure out who you're supposed to remember. It's perhaps an example of where historical accuracy can detract from a story rather than enrich it.
Structurally, the bulk of the story comprises a series of interviews of various members of Hadrian's household and retinue, by the investigators. These interviews recount a great deal of Antinous' life, from just before he met Hadrian up to his death. As such, they digress from the main story significantly, as we're given much more background than the core mystery requires. It's often great and revealing information, but it detracts a little too much from the story.
One of the biggest digressions is the testimony of Lysias, Antinous' boyhood friend who recounts how the two met Hadrian and became Companions of the Hunt. Personally, although Lysias appears to have been an invention of the author, I think the "Memoirs of Lysias: My Years With Antinous" would have made a better, more consistent story. But in Lysias' testimony, we have more problems with the writing. The testimony is supposedly recorded exactly as it's spoken, so for Lysias the author attempts the casual style of a young man. Only it doesn't ring true. It sounds more like an older man's idea of how young people speak. This inconsistency repeats itself often throughout the story, where modern and even vulgar language is used, which doesn't seem quite to fit.
Really liked it, in fact. So the fourth star is in store for next edition, which I'm really looking forward to read.
I liked the dreamlike quality of the scenery (Suetonius-as-sleuth and his friends wandering through a camp looking endless and somewhat unreal). I liked the character of Antinous: not a dreaming teenager, but a determinate young man, and quite a match for the emperor; and divine, of course, as usual; but the god associated with Antinous here is neither Dionysus, nor Hermes, let alone Ganymede; Antinous here is rather like Apollo Alexikakos, the heavenly healer. I liked the ability of some characters to renounce revenge and set themselves free from the burden of the past.
So, for the next edition, I would like: A better filtering of information (the documentation is very careful, but there is still an excess of data not well converted in narrative form). Better control of POVS: sometimes, it looks like the author has forgotten the presence of a narrator. A bit of language reworking, in order to eliminate such expressions as "phallocentric," "alpha male", “risk assessment skills”, not to mention poker language, and similar, all likely to put the suspension of disbelief in serious jeopardy.
And finally ... IMHO a declaration of love should definitely not look like public tendering combined with a lesson in cultural anthropology (what would have happened – or not happened – had Antinous been less smart?).
I really wanted to love this book because the death of Antinous is one of those historical mysteries that has always fascinated me. Sadly, I thought it was badly written and poorly edited. Tenses and points of view were all over the place. We changed from a past tense to a present tense in the same sentence. Events, dialogue and emotions were reported by people who couldn't have possibly known those things. Almost identical descriptions and information were repeated over and over again, some historical points were reiterated a tedious number of times so that I found myself skipping pages. The dialogue was at times little better than clumsy and lengthy info-dump. Characters were described in great physical detail but failed to come to life as personalities. The totally random italics, anachronistic words and (in the Kindle version) sudden changes of font-sizes were likewise off-putting.
Lest I sound very harsh, I must add that I did actually enjoy the book more than my criticisms suggest. It was rather engaging and admirably bold in its intentions. The author clearly researched rigorously for it and just need a lighter hand in applying the results. A good edit could have rectified a lot of the more glaring writing faults and cut out much of the repetition and superfluous characters.
"THE HADRIAN ENIGMA" is a story based on real life males romance--An emperor of Rome, Publius Aeliues Hadrienus (more popular Hadrian) and Antinous of Bithynia, a Greek youth. The story of Hadrian and Antinous is a tragic romance. Because during an imperial tour to Egypt, Antinous is found drowned in the River Nile after his seven year affair with the Emperor. This incident sent Hadrian into a swell of grief and sadness that it altered the Roman world. Later, The Emperor sent Gaius Suetonius Tranquillus, a barrister and historian to investigate Antinous's death within 48 hours or he get consequences.
I've rediscovered my passion to historical books, especially Roman era-thanks to this book. While i greatly enjoy the romantic stories of legendary or real life person, The Hadrian Enigma is not a story about romance but more focusing on fantastic intricate investigation of mystery behind the death of Hadrian's favorite lover. This story supported by fact and legend and that initially captured my attention.
As the author of THE HADRIAN ENIGMA: A Forbidden History, it would be bad style to review my own book. I am likely to be biased, yes?
Nevertheless, GOODREADS visitors might check the nine reviews on the Amazon USA sales page for the book. There are four five star reviews among the nine, averaging four stars. The book also had a 3-way share in 2010's RAINBOW AWARDS for Best Historical Gay Novel.
"Yet to have heard the prospect of penetration voiced to his face by Hadrian would have disturbed Antinous. " I have read about a quarter of the book so I can't say how it continues but the sentence quoted above sums up what I have read so far. What at first seems like an enquiry about why Ceasar's lover has died turns out to be in reality a lengthy discussion on homosexuality amongst Roman's. Quite well written but not what I expected to read.