“Acts of the Assassins” by Richard Beard

Acts of the Assassins

(Author: Richard Beard) + (Year: 2015) + (Goodreads)


Review: 

Romulus, the founder of Rome, enters an underground room in the Forum. He is old, his pulse weak, his service to the city is complete. His senators in their purple-striped togas follow him into the room, which has no windows and only one door. What follows is a classic sealed room mystery: Romulus is never seen again. 

What happened to Romulus? Did he ascend? Or is it that the simplest explanation is the right one:

The senators had closed the door and stabbed old Romulus in silence, alerting none of the Forum’s hyper-alert slaves. Then they knelt to dissect the body. Each senator concealed a small section of flesh or bone beneath his toga, and they carried Romulus away from the sealed room in pieces. The cuts of meat they dispersed through the city, flushed into cisterns or tossed to scavenging dogs. No trace of Romulus was ever found.

I’m honestly surprised that Acts of the Assassins has not already gathered more readers. I checked the Goodreads page and only two people have rated it so far, and a couple are currently reading it. Considering that I got the book through NetGalley and one needs to express their desire to read a book, it may be that not many have paid attention to this particular book.

They are wrong.

Acts of the Assassins is an unbelievable book, completely mind-blowing in its setting and originality. It’s absolutely brilliant and completely mad.

Imagine that the New Testament never happened, that you did not believe in Jesus. Imagine that you turned on the TV today and heard about yet another mad cult, following a man, who the media makes out to be a complete lunatic. Another Charles Manson, perhaps? On the TV they say that in Jerusalem a probable terrorist cell has started working. They killed a man named Lazarus and later claimed that he has been resurrected. Then the cult’s leader, a man known as Jesus, was publicly executed by the state. Only it seems he didn’t stay dead either. There have been sightings of him all over the Empire. Notify the authorities if you have any information. 

This book offers a very ambiguous perspective of religion as we know it and the present as it is. The Roman empire still exists in an era of computers, tracers, cell phones and airplanes. A Speculator, a cop, is sent to look for the body of a cult leader named Jesus. Only he fails. Years later he is brought back to action, as members of the cult are being killed off.

Now that you’ve taken a look in the premises of the book, answer to yourself, how would you feel if this happened today? I can tell you: you’d be annoyed that yet another psycho is filling the world with propaganda and religious insanity. See, it’s so much different looking from a modern perspective at these Biblical events.

The narrative of the book is as original as its setting: it’s highly nonlinear, in one chapter we have – the events around Jude, the ones after Thomas, after Jude, after Thomas, and then the ones surrounding Paul, which take place before Thomas. At certain points it’s hard to keep up, it even seems like the author is giving out spoilers. But it’s rewarding, at least as far as I’m concerned.

A book like this will probably be placed among the likes of “The Da Vinci Code”, but I don’t think that’s where it belongs. It’s all that and much more. It has a touch of mystery and a lot of thriller in it, but overall, this is a book about obsession, faith, religion. Despite the fact that many other themes were much more prominent, I think that it is exactly obsession that is the driving force of Acts of the Assassins. Each and every character has their own obsession that they project on the world around them and which clouds their judgement and makes them move, however the direction. There is action and police work and a bit of a chase too, but the core is the book’s on philosophy and the moral dilemmas that the characters are faced with. There is no sugar-coating it, both the story and the language are blunt and honest and a little bit brutal, but brutality is definitely not the point of it, it’s just an instrument.

Of course, I had some questions regarding the world in the book, but I think that’s to be expected when one is faced with a new, made-up universe.

1. If Jesus is not part of traditional religion, which I gather is Old Testament Christianity, and He was born in a completely normal family, how is it that the idea of “immaculate conception” exists at all. It was very pointedly mentioned during the visit in the museum when the author talks about Salvador Dali’s “Immaculate conception” painting.

2. How did religion develop?

3. How did the Empire survive, considering that emperor Constantine would have been blown to dust if he hadn’t allied forces with the Christians to make for a stronger army? If there were no post-Jesus Christians in the Roman empire, how would it have been possible for him to win the war that they won for him?

4. How did technology manage to get developed in a world which is as barbaric and underdeveloped as the one described, technology aside. Public executions and gladiators and torture are still a thing, and we are witnesses even today to the fact that savages who give themselves over to such barbarity, are not able to focus themselves on further development of the world and pursuits of the mind.

5. How is it that America was never found? Proof to that is the fact that it’s stated on multiple occasions that Scotland is at the end of the world.

My questions, however, do not lessen my love for this book. It’s an amazing piece of original thinking which provoked much thought for me. I highly recommend this to anyone and everyone.

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