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.