Tullus had been moving up in the world. Once a Centurion, he had a position as part of the eilte Praetorian Guard. But when he gets on the wrong side of some crooked noblemen, he is forced to leave Rome. Only then does he discover his true calling, as the Leopard King.
I’ll start by saying I was predisposed to liking this one. It’s setting is the Roman Empire in the mid part of 1st century A.D. and I’ve always liked Roman history. The bulk of the story takes place at the end of Tiberius’ reign and the beginning of Caligula’s.
Both these historical figures (and others) appear during the novel but the narrative is mainly carried by three characters: Tullus; Norbanous, an ambitious Tribune and Eliana, a senator’s daughter. As the book progresses there are others who get their turn to be the focus of a section, but we consistently come back to these three as they interact and oppose each other.
The attention to detail regarding the Roman world is something I did appreciate, and works very well at drawing the reader into the story. I did enjoy the parts where the author would give a Roman name for an item or role and then leave it to the descriptions to allow the reader to work out what was being referred to.
There are also a number of well-written action sequences, ranging from one on one combat to a full scale Legion offensive. Again, the attention to detail here is very immersive. As is the slow unraveling of one the central plot lines, which begins in the prologue and continues all the way through the novel (and presumably continues into the second book).
The addition of magic into this well established world is also gradual, beginning with brief mentions early on and evolving into one of the main characters being identified as having a gift for the now-outlawed practice of Elemence and hints that there are others who can make use of similar abilities. For whatever reason, this seemed the vaguest part of the book for me; although, based on the glossary at the back, there is still plenty to explore.
Even without my previously mentioned liking for the period, I believe I would have enjoyed this book. This is due to the strength of the writing, the careful placing (and pacing) of plot points and the teases of what will be in store in the second Tome, The Leopard Stratagem. I’ve already added it to my to-read list.