THE SEER KING by Chris Bunch is a book which takes place in a fantasy version of ancient Rome with elements of the British Empire and India thrown in as well. I had this book recommended to me by Steve Caldwell of The BookWyrm Speaks multiple times but never found the time to actually read it. Basically, I just didn't know if I had time to get into a Game of Thrones-esque doorstopper with my reading list already overflowing. In any case, I decided to give it a try and am very glad I did.
The premise of the story is Damastes is a cavalryman for the setting's equivalent to the Roman Legions. Numantia is a proud and powerful civilization but it's reaching the end of its life cycle as it's current leaders, The Ten, have squandered much of its power in the pursuit of wealth. A wizard-general named Tenedos believes they can restore it to greatness by appointing a new king (himself) but the book opens with the two of them imprisoned after a failed coup so there's no doubt things are not going to go well for them.
Much of the book is told as Damastes telling his story to the reader, talking about how he grew up and became a cavalryman as well as his various trials and tribulations. It's a good method for telling us how the culture of Numatia works as well as all of its prejudices as well as problems. We spend a good half of the book with Damastes in a foreign nation occupied by his empire with the locals utterly despising him but our hero having no way to change the situation.
Damastes is an interesting protagonist as he's a mostly likable guy but primarily self-interested and not really one who wants to step out of his culture's attitudes. He wants to benefit from the imperialism and conquest his country engages in but doesn't want to beggar foreign nations either. He's something of a chauvinist but not so much as to make the reader repulsed by him either (or at least most readers).
Tenedos is an interesting character and reminds me of what you might get if you had Senator Palpatine as the protagonist. He's a genius and schemer who makes good arguments for why he should be the one to rule all of Numatia but you also get the sense he's happy to kill millions in order to do it. I like his friendship with Damastes as well with the latter thinking he's a good friend to the former while the former coming off more as a man who knows he can use Damastes as a reliable tool.
A warning to those individuals who are sensitive to such things but The Seer King has a lot of sex. Damastes says he doesn't like to brag but he has a woman in virtually every location across the empire and others falling over him. I don't dislike this sort of thing, personally, even if most of the women kind of blend together and it's not like his actual love interest really stands out by comparison. Still, those who assume this book will be sanitized shall find themselves quite surprised as it follows a much more George R.R. Martin treatment of sex, violence, and archaic attitudes. I don't know if I would call it grimdark fantasy since that genre didn't exist when this was published in 1997 but it's certainly a predecessor to the genre.
In conclusion, this is an older book but definitely one I was glad to pick up the Kindle version of and enjoy. If you like dark adult fantasy with a faux historical bent then this is definitely the work for you.