Aetas Furor-The Time of Madness
by Harry S. Franklin
Genre: Historical Fiction, Horror
Review by Patrick J. Dalton
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Zombies vs. Romans! The year is 37 AD; a mysterious living severed head is delivered to Rome from the far reaches of the Eastern Empire. The head, and a lone Chinese monk arrive in the city of Capua, near Rome's capitol. They have been captured by the Roman Governor of Syria and sent to Rome as holy gifts for the Emperor-the notorious tyrant, Caligula.
Before the head magistrate of Capua-a Roman named Pullus-can make the arrangements to speed the bizarre gift to the Emperor, the magically animated severed head bites the finger of a ferocious Centurion; and the real fun begins.
The curse of the Dead spreads through Capua like a field of wheat set ablaze, but Rome does not care, all her Emperor cares for is the arrival of the head-now called the living head of Apollo-and the magic and power this will bring him.
Pullus struggles to combat the Dead and save his citizens, but as the numbers of Dead grow exponentially, he realizes he is fighting a losing battle-the Madness has taken hold. Convinced the head of Apollo is a powerful omen of his own divinity, Caligula demands the head be sent to him in a Triumphal Parade, and the Madness begins in Rome itself.
Conflict is set between Pullus and Caligula-pragmatism vs. outlandish caprice, man vs. the will of the gods-but can anyone save Rome? Perhaps the narrator, young Atticus, and the lone Chinese monk he has befriended have the answer.
“For as long as people will remember Rome, they will consider the antics in the palace during Caligula’s both notorious and legendary.”
“What Would Caligula Do?” reads the rubber wristband I should adorn myself with after perusing Aetas Furor. Although this work ascends the usual plots and survivalist tactics often found in the genre and instead brings the dead into a documented historical setting, it is Caligula all day.
Franklin’s second published effort is less of an all-out zombie gorefest and more of an imaginative character study of Ancient Rome’s most notorious ruling blemish. That’s not to say that Aetas Furor is devoid of zombies or “lemures” feasting on the living, for that’s the vehicle the author uses to explore the amoral exploits of Emperor Gaius Julius Caesar Germanicus.
The plot itself, as conveyed by our humble, pubescent narrator Atticus, revolves around a severed head (assumed to be that of Apollo) and the mysterious Chinese monk, Xen. First in the city of Capua before being summoned to Rome by our main madman, Caligula.
Capua, governed by Magistrate/General Pullus is left to deal with a grand-scale epidemic of lemures with only Trio (recruits) and Privates from the Campus to handle the crisis. Not cool.
You see, Caligula scoffs at and mocks Pullus, a by-the-books man of reason, who is of course in stark contrast to our antagonist. One prepares an assault on the dead by recalling the troops from the streets of Capua to further their training in attacking the dead and the other ingests an endless flow of vino while getting down (and quite dirty) with his sister Drusilla. This is doesn't bode well for the fine citizens of Rome, for the Senate has been paralyzed in fear of their Emperor.
Caligula, a man of wealth (drained dry by his excesses) and taste (of the foulest nature) makes sport of the dead when he has “samples” brought to him as proof of the strife in Capua. He begins hosting gladiatorial matches featuring the walking, flesh hungry corpses. And, yeah, the dead, become Caligula’s “morbid playthings”.
Now, this is where I believe Dear Ol’ Cali steals the thunder. He believes there is divinity to be found in the dead and were “immortal by their very definition”. He is also under the presumption that he could restore life though his own divine powers and chooses to demonstrate this new-found supremacy on his sister Drusilla. He has his minions abduct Drusilla & bound naked to his bed before having the reanimated corpse of her slave Paulina take a mouthful out her leg. “She asked to know how he could watch her suffer, if he planned to revel as the fever ravished her, would he rape her before or after she was dead?” Well, both.
Yes, there is more to this work than just Caligula and I’m not going to blow the whistle on how Franklin craftily weaves in zombies and the demise of our family friendly “little boots”. However, with a personality this strong and outrageous as a main player, it is, at times difficult to focus on points of the story.
The story goes back & forth from Capua’s struggle to contain the “madness” and madness personified in the Empire’s man of the hour. Some Standout points are the Matrix-esque fight sequences Xen brings to the party, introducing Ancient Rome to the even more ancient martial arts.
Xen himself is an excellent character, another oddity to be found in this setting and Franklin handled his mystique with precision and respect. From his introduction as a Centurion-crushing heathen to the strategic, Zen-like mentor of young Atticus, his evolution leaves the reader wanting another round.
So, why only 4 stars? Aside from the aforementioned focus on the antagonist, the story struggles with fluidity at times due to the dominance of attention given to historical details and less about the madness itself. For instance, the fist night in Capua, when the dead have escaped the Campus with Lepidus and his men in pursuit, he usurps a slave scribe Porflavius to write details of their encounters to be messengered back to Pullus. However, those very details are dismissed.
Another issue I had with Aetas Furor was a technical one. Once in italics, always in italics. Each time a Latin word came into play, such as gladius, it arrived in italics and remained there throughout the book. Italics, in repetition, are often used in textbooks to give a student the heads up that A) this is important, remember this & B) yeah, this will most likely be on the test. So, I had to ask myself “is this going to be graded on a curve?”
And the first question raised there would be: is copulating with the undead considered necrophilia or can we just go ahead and file it under "Incest" once it pertains to siblings?
“Do not fear to battle the will of the gods. You’re going to Hades no matter what you do.”Aetas Furor is definitely a completely unique approach to the genre and an absolutely worthy read.
About the Reviewer:
Patrick J. Dalton is an Irish-born writer/ illustrator now living in the 5 Boros with his wife & 4yo son. Former musician/ lyricist, current human being, he is currently finishing his debut novel to be self-published in 2014.
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