Richard Foreman presents five short stories in a collection entitled The Die Is Cast – a reference to his lengthiest tale of the five. Sword of Rome: Rubicon is set in Ancient Rome and, already by the title, fans of Roman history will, perhaps, appropriately guess that this specific tale has something to do with Julius Caesar’s crossing of the Rubicon. The plot centres around the growing tension between Caesar and Pompey, – former political allies turned enemies – following the events leading up to the Roman Civil War, outbreaking on the 10th January 49 BC.
Foreman provides a fresh take on the seminal event in history via the creative way the story is told. The tale follows a two-path perspective: it is partly told through the eyes of the fictional character of Lucius Oppius – one of Caesar’s best Roman soldiers; the other half is told through the eyes of the Roman statesman, Marcus Tullius Cicero. Both characters face similar internal struggles. Whilst Oppius struggles with duty and honour against love and dreams, Cicero struggles to successfully promote his proposals of peace.
Sword of Rome: Rubicon is a part-fictional, part-historical tale – and it is to the credit of the author that it is difficult to tell where the seams are. The climax occurs when Caesar finally decides to cross the Rubicon and, although Foreman does slightly rewrite the events, the consequential action-packed and nail-biting scene that follows Caesar’s journey will have readers turning the pages. The Die is Cast is reference to Caesar’s alleged quote when he travelled into Northern Italy; once a course of action has been started, there is no turning back.
While this quote rouses the theme of action in Sword of Rome: Rubicon, it also heavily underlies a few other tales – each equally as gripping. For example, Friends in High Places, also set in Rome, follows Rufus Varro, a spy sent to a tavern by Caesar’s lieutenant, on the order to trick and help arrest ‘an enemy of the state’, Publius Dio. Once accepted, Varro has no option but to continue down the path he began. The story tale follows a short – but tense – interaction between Varro and Dio. Varro follows the ploy set in motion – but is Dio really the prey?
Likewise, Turpin’s Dagger also follows the theme of The Die Is Cast. Interestingly, however, Foreman showcases how it is not 18th century highwayman, Dick Turpin, who throws the dice – but a man named George Pine, whose dishonesty leads to severer consequences than he expected. His colourful claim of riding with Turpin leads him into trouble with two intimidating robbers, forcing him into a corner he cannot escape from.
Foreman’s final story is a dark, ironic tale showcasing how cockiness combined with hopefulness can cause a man’s downfall. Hobby’s Horse follows Pat Hobby, a 49-year-old screenwriter, who secures a well-paying job for screenwriting a rag-to-riches story about Ajax. The reader soon comes to find out Ajax is, in fact, a ‘glossy’ chestnut-coloured horse. Yet, the drunkard Hobby is his own worst enemy and one action sets the dice in motion – dice he cannot re-roll, no matter his desperation.
However, Foreman’s fourth story Raffles: Bowled Over suggests that sometimes, the path taken is not the only path available – sometimes, a path can diverge into two smaller trails. The tale follows Raffles attempt to break into his new – and filthy rich – neighbour’s luxurious apartment. Raffles’ aim – along with the help of his ‘biographer (of sorts)’, Bunny – is to steal valuable items from Rupert Robert Fuller. Yet, despite Raffles being notorious for his roguish reputation, the introduction of Fuller’s young maid, Mary Flanagan, proves to be a distraction for Raffles – much to Bunny’s dismay. Is she really who she claims to be? Raffles and Mary’s separate, chosen paths meet at a climax – can they re-write the narrative that their past selves have set for them?
Richard Foreman successfully presents the reader with short, but sophisticated, historical tales. The Die Is Cast offers more than just five short stories put together. History and humour combine to produce one of the most fun anthologies you will read this year.