Readers of Harry Sidebottom’s Warrior of Rome and Throne of the Caesars series will already be familiar with Castricius, an enigmatic and oddly sympathetic sociopath referred to in Silence & Lies as “the knife boy”. Silence & Lies allows us some insight into part of Castricius’ personal history and leaves us with as many questions as it answers. With the release of the third Throne of the Caesars novel, Fire and Sword, we may learn more.
Castricius is the perfect character through whom to explore issues of secrecy, identity, mutability, espionage and evasion. Sidebottom explicitly pays tribute to a familiar pulp fiction genre – the sheriff in pursuit of an escaped outlaw – and does not neglect the action side, but here he is largely concerned to investigate character and philosophy.
A striking hallmark of Sidebottom’s novels is the sense that despite the Roman Empire of the 3rd Century being geographically vast, there is little leeway for a fugitive to lay low – places to run, maybe, but nowhere to hide, nowhere to claim safety. This short story addresses this head-on.
Castricius might think he can shed one skin and transmute. But can he?