Paul Waters: Of Merchants and Heroes
04.12.07 | Benedicte Page
Tom Tivnan writes:
Of Merchants and Heroes seems an odd title; my first thought was business book on retail entrepreneurs rather than an adventure and love story set in the third century B.C. Rome and Greece. It has a part snooze-fest, part swashbuckler ring, like calling a new espionage novel Of Spreadsheets and Spies.
Yet Paul Waters’ debut (Macmillan, February) starts with a bang – the ship that fourteen-year-old Marcus and his father are sailing to Greece on is attacked by pirates. Taken ashore to be sold into slavery, Marcus manages to escape, which costs his father his life. Eventually making it back home, Marcus vows revenge upon pirate captain Dikaiarchos, saying he won’t rest until he is dead.
What cunning plan does Marcus go about exact his vengeance? Um, going into business. Yes, this book really is about merchants. So we get chapter after chapter as Marcus matures to manhood, of him working for his new stepfather, the grasping Caecilius, on the family farm and import business. I was never much interested in Roman animal husbandry and ship manifests… and well, I still am not.
Yet, it’s not all dull. Marcus gets in with Roman movers and shakers and eventually becomes entrenched in Rome’s war with Philip of Macedonia. The feuding between Rome and her allies is deftly handled, and the battle scenes move along briskly.
Along the way, Marcus falls in love. With another young man, the beautiful Menexenos. Yes, Marcus is gay, something a reader with even the most blunted gaydar notices on, oh, page 10. Yet it takes Marcus about a 150 long, tortuous navel-gazing pages for him to come to terms with it. The whole Marcus and Menexenos love story is perhaps wildly ahistorical – I don’t think the ancients had too many hang-ups about same sex relationships as some moderns do. It’s very PG as well, perhaps Waters or his editors at Pan Macmillan, did not want to alienate the hairy-chested heteros who make up the sword and sandal book demographic. A shame, really. If Waters wrote as well about Eros as Mars this might have been a far more interesting debut.