Book review: Colossus: Stone & Steel by David Blixt

Set in Judea in 66 AD, Colossus details the Judean uprising against Nero’s Rome through the eyes of two brothers – Judah and Asher.

Judea has been suffering under the greed of its Roman Consular General, but when their temple is desecrated, an angry mob rises up against and defeats the Roman legion. They know that this act of rebellion will set the stage swift and merciless action by Emperor Nero, and must prepare to defend themselves against the Roman invasion. Almost unwillingly caught up in the middle of all this turmoil is Judah, a stone mason and hero of the uprising at Beth Horon. Since he is unable to win approval to marry the woman of his dreams, he and his brother Asher devote all their energies to defending the besieged city of Jotapata.

This is the second book by David Blixt that I tried to read. The first, Her Majesty’s Will, left me cold – I couldn’t get past 50 pages. So it was with some trepidation that I approached this book. However, I was pleasantly surprised. The story drew me in, painting the cities and the people and the setting vividly in my imagination. The plot is taunt – it’s not a fast-paced book, but it will keep you engaged and eager to turn the page. When the book came to an end, I was a little sad to be leaving the brothers in Jotapata and coming back to my everyday life! He’s built up the characters and the time period very well. The story is set around the time when Christianity was still starting – it had few takers, and most followers of Christ had to be careful about when and where they would meet as the clergy at the time was not convinced that Jesus was The Christ that was spoken of in prophesy. Blixt brings to life the city of Judea and Emperor Nero and his court, as well as the customs and daily life of people during that time period through his vivid descriptions. The characters, especially the key players (but even the smaller cast) are well crafted – you know their motivations and their fears and hopes and dreams.

Interior of the Basilica di San Clemente, Rome...

Interior of the Basilica di San Clemente, Rome, Italy. (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

This book is supposed to be the first in a series of books on Rome and the rise of Christianity, but it starts “small, almost intimately, with two Judean brothers at the siege of Jotapata.” Author David Blixt hit upon the idea for this novel after a visit to St Clement’s in Rome, where they have excavated and created a tour through the history of the city.

“As a city that’s always building up upon it self, it’s often hard to see ancient Rome in anything but the famous edifices and the shapes of the streets. But here is Rome encapsulated. You start in an 17th century church, then descend into an early 12th century church, then to a 4th century church, a 3rd century Mithraeum (temple to the god Mithras), then finally to a 1st century Roman street and insula (apartment). You can hear the Tiber running just under your feet through the ancient sewer system.
I never got past that 1st century street. Because I started looking into Saint Clement himself, and what was going on when he was living there – the fall of Jerusalem, the building of the Colosseum, the rise of Christianity in Rome. That was how the Colossus series was born.” – David Blixt, on the inspiration for the novel.

Blixt will widen the scope out in the next several book, keeping Judah and Asher as the central points, exploring how drastically the world changed in a short period of time.

I have to say that I’m looking forward to the rest of this series, though the book does excellently as a stand-alone novel as well.

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