Blog Tour Review: The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George


Title: The Confessions of Young Nero
Author: Margaret George
Genre: Historical Fiction, Literary Fiction
Publisher: Berkley Hardcover
Published: March 7, 2017
ISBN: 9780451473387
My Rating: 4/5

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar’s imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman—or child.

As a boy, Nero’s royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina’s machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero’s determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become—an Emperor who became legendary.

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy’s ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.

I vaguely remember learning about Nero, in one of my history classes in high school. As an adult reader, when I tried to draw forth an image of him, all I could remember was the saying, “Nero fiddled while Rome burned”, something about him killing Christians in a diabolical way, and how he was one of the most notorious Caesars. And yet, before the tyrade, murdering and corruption, he, like all mankind, was once an innocent baby, a young child and an awkward teen, not yet, the Nero of legend. This is the crux of Margaret George’s new novel.

When Berkeley Publishing contacted me on Instagram and asked if I’d like to read and review an historical fiction novel featuring Ancient Rome, and Nero’s early life, I jumped at the opportunity. Not only is historical fiction one of my favorite genres, but I’ve had an obsession for Greek and Roman myths, history and civilizations, since 6th grade history.

I can always tell when a book will hook, when I have a hard time putting it down, and this book, checking in at over 500 pages actually read very quickly. Quite the surprise, when I arrived at the last five chapters in just a few short reading sessions. The narrative, as told from the perspective of Nero, retells his life story, from his earliest recollection of almost being drowned by his deviant uncle Caligula, up to the moment, he is told, Rome is burning.

Throw in a Shakespearean number of murders, including the death of several Emperors, his own Mother, Agrippina, who is also another infamous character from history, (she’d be a fascinating character to write about in more detail), and a few friends and countryman who didn’t quite see eye to eye with the vision of Nero, you quickly find the book has a rollicking pace. My favorite part of the book included the subtle and twisted changes that begin to shape and mold young Nero from a good intentioned and dutiful son to the historical figure he is best known for. There were several parts, that any modern psychiatrist would enjoy, where Nero begins to speak of himself as spilt into three different people.

There is also a wealth of insight into Ancient Roman life, not only about the upper echelons, but also the daily ruling and lawmaking of Rome throughout the world. Including several references to Britannia, Boudicca sacking London, and even a moment where Nero meets and is impressed with the Christian prophet Paul; who is arrested and taken to Rome to be tried by Nero himself. Ancient Christianity in this book is known as an upstart and dangerous new religion, based on the teachings of a man named Christ, who had died some 30 odd years before Nero’s rule . Kind of fun to see other historical figures make an appearance as contemporaries of Nero.

Overall, Margaret George, does a great job mixing in historical facts documented during this time in history. As well as providing an interpretation of what may have happened when Agrippina died mysteriously (all historical documents, differ on this point), how the great fire in Rome started and finally how Nero became the Nero of history. In truth, Nero may have been an inauspicious man who loved the arts and longed for the glories and beauty of previous civilizations. Not the corrupt and vile man he is painted to be in historical accounts, including the Bard, himself.

If you enjoy historical fiction, have a fascination with Roman history, or are intrigued by the reigns of Roman rulers, I can’t recommend this enough. It was truly a treat to read.

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The Light Years by Elizabeth Jane Howard

I’ve had Howard’s book, The Light Years on my list for quite some time. Recently, the Cazalet Chronicles have been popping up all over the place, including a fabulous article in the Winter 2016 Issue of Slightly Foxed. After all these coincidental prompts, I knew I needed to bump this up to one of my next reads.

After doing a little bit of research about the novel, many readers and reviewers have compared this to Downton Abbey and I do agree to an extent. Throughout the novel, one follows the story of multiple characters both upstairs and downstairs, with the main focus on the large Cazalet clan, whose lives and misadventures unfold through each of their perspectives in nicely packaged sections. With a large cast of characters, including several small children, the first part of the novel was a bit confusing. I found myself almost needing to jot down notes, to keep all of the characters and storylines straight. But, after a little flipping back and forth, I soon found myself completely engrossed in each of their stories.

The book is divided into three sections, between two summers, and two years – 1937 and 1938. Even though both years take place before the outbreak of war, there is an underlying tension, especially in the 1938 sections, that to me, alludes to the trials and horrors of the approaching war. During the first section, the stories of the family are quite idyllic with a warm summer glow that envelops the section, fresh love, days at the beach and a family life that we all long for. But something changes in the second section, LATE SUMMER 1938, and that gleam and glow that was apparent the summer before is tarnished – the children are older, and a little less innocent, cracks are starting to appear in relationships and that looming knowledge that war is just around the corner, and a changing world order, starts to affect the narrative.

I’ve always had a fascination with England during the two World Wars. So the setting and time of this novel was perfect in my opinion. I’ve also recently discovered one of my favorite types of fiction focus on the everyday lives of people, in particular the role of women in the household. This simple formula of focusing on a family that is bound together by love, tragedy, happiness, sadness, and ultimately the outbreak of war, is what makes this book in my opinion. Howard has taken a complex and diverse family and created identities and personalities as seen in a typical family during the 1930’s and in doing so, weaves a story that sweeps you up, even as a modern reader.

There are four more books in the Cazalet Chronicles, all follow the family up to the 1950’s. I’m anxious to see where the story goes, how the characters grow and develop during the years of WWII and the aftermath in the years to come.

Favorite Quotes:

The trouble about being a saint was that it didn’t seem to be very nice for them at the time, only afterwards, for other people, after they’d died. Working a miracle would be marvelous – being martyred would not. But supposing you could be a saint without being a martyr?

That’s what ordinary life is, isn’t it? Carrying on as usual.

My Rating: 4 Stars


Book Details:

Paperback: 432 pages
Publisher: Pan MacMillan (September 1, 2013)
Language: English

 9780330323154

Purchase Book: Book Depository

 

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