The Price of Freedom featuring Libertus, a freedman mosaicist, is book 17 in the popular series Libertus Mystery in Roman Britain. The author has done a wonderful job keeping her series fresh and fun, with lots of local color and Roman history for amateur historians, along with red-herrings, a complex mystery, and suspects galore for mystery fans.
Libertus narrates the story in first person, as if it were a chronicle of his adventure written soon after its conclusion. He has a dry wit, and is a personable narrator, a Celtic familyman-business owner who gets roped into problem-solving for his former master. The life of slaves in Roman Britain is portrayed in all its horrible variety, and features especially strongly in this book.
While it is fun to read all the books in the series in order, to visit periodically with “old friends”, the author does well at bringing new readers up to speed with Libertus's life to date, quickly and painlessly. The dialogue heavy style keeps the story active and moving forward quickly. However, the history woven into the tale can slow it down a bit. But those bits are beloved by die-hard fans of fiction set in ancient Rome's empire.
I found it entertaining to travel alongside Libertus through Roman Britain, encountering realistic characters and believable adventures. The author uses the story to point out the parallels between the past and today, since the one constant over time is human nature, in all its violence, fanaticism, patriarchies, and barbarism. Those darker elements have, rightfully, always been a part of Libertus's tales, since the Roman Empire was a very violent, brutal place with lots of institutionalized sadism.
There are many characters in the novel, which usually isn't a problem for me, and is how a novel should be, but for whatever reason this time I had difficulty keeping people clear. The ending was rather quick; I would have like a little for strands of the story tied up with Libertus's hindsight. But I'm not really complaining since this was a very entertaining read! I look forward to spending time with Libertus again in his next book, perhaps with more of his family in that one.
The books in the Libertus Series to date:
- The Germanicus Mosaic
- A Pattern of Blood
- Murder in the Forum
- The Chariots of Calyx
- The Legatus Mystery
- The Ghosts of Glevum
- Enemies of the Empire
- A Roman Ransom
- A Coin for the Ferryman
- Death at Pompeia's Wedding
- Requiem for a Slave
- The Vestal Vanishes
- A Whispering of Spies
- Dark Omens
- The Fateful Day (reviewed on this site)
- The Ides of June (reviewed on this site)
- The Price of Freedom
From the book's description:
The death of a local tax-collector spells trouble for Libertus in this compelling historical mystery.
Having been inveigled into standing for the local curia, responsible for the submission of all local tax, Libertus discovers that any shortfall must be made good by the councillors themselves. So when news arrives that a tax-collector from a nearby outpost has committed suicide, having gambled everything away, Libertus is despatched to make enquiries, in the hope of recovering at least some of the missing revenue. He has also been asked to attend a wedding, in place of his patron, who is expecting a visit from an Imperial Legate.
But the assignment which should have seen Libertus for once treated as an honoured guest begins to take grisly and unexpected turns. As he pieces together the unlikely truth, Libertus finds himself in mortal danger. Freedom, in all forms, is only relative ? but there is a high price for it, sometimes paid in blood?
Here is a direct link to the book at Amazon.com: