Book Review: A DAY OF FIRE – A Novel of Pompeii

A DAY OF FIRE

A Novel of Pompeii by Stephanie Dray, Ben Kane, E Knight, Sophie Perinot, Kate Quinn & Vicky Alvear Shecter

Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain’s wrath . . . and these are their stories:

  • A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii’s flourishing streets.
  • An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.
  • An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.
  • A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.
  • A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.
  • A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.

Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each other’s’ path during Pompeii’s fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?

I must admit that when I received an early copy of this book I was a little apprehensive about it. It’s a brave endeavour because you have six writers putting themselves out there. Six writers and one story – that sounded fraught with difficulties. I had heard of all six writers but had only read Ben Kane’s work before. Well, I can tell you that I shall be exploring the work of the other writers very soon, for this book is an excellent read.

The story plays upon our ongoing fascination with the people of Pompeii and their individual fates when ‘you know what’ happened. There have been quite a lot of stories about the eruption but this one manages to come across as fresh and original – no mean feat. It is the idea of six intertwined and overlapping tales that makes this different.

The advantage of six authors is demonstrated by the breadth of themes explored in the novel. The human condition with all its frailties exposed is given a thorough going over in this work. Yet the individual stories with all their scope for gloom nevertheless manage also to demonstrate the best of human qualities alongside the worst.

But the real triumph of this work is that all of this is accomplished whilst the story builds in tension and excitement. I kept thinking as I finished each story: how is the next writer going to top this? But they did!

I must make at least a brief reference to each story though I shall not do them enough credit in so few words.

Story 1 – The Son

The first story has a tough job. It has to hook the reader but it must not give an overload of information – too many characters too soon and we will be lost. It starts simply but it takes us into the heart of the story in a tale of innocence, love and the journey from adolescence into manhood.

Story 2 – The Heiress

This story shifts the focus to a different, though connected, group of characters as it examines the roles of Roman women, their independence – or lack of it – and marriage. All of this is set against the backdrop of growing concern in Pompeii, as the early signs of volcanic activity begin to dominate events.

Story 3- The Soldier

Here the lot of the slave is examined a little more and our understanding of the power politics in the town is enhanced. The tension and excitement builds further both in terms of the earth tremors and rock showers, but also in the development of the plot. This story is an excellent example of how each one gives us its own protagonists but also links brilliantly to the others.

Story 4 – The Senator

Each story increases the tension and more pieces of the whole jigsaw fall into place. But we are still left guessing about the fate of many of the characters to whom we have been introduced. I think this story just might have been my favourite… until I read the next two and then it was too close to call!

Story 5 – The Mother

Heartbreakingly relentless – you just do not know how this one’s going to end!

Story 6 – The Whore

I was captivated by the final story which gives us different insights into several characters we think we already know very well. Just when you think it will end one way, it veers away to take you by surprise.

Overall, I can’t praise this book highly enough. It’s a rattling good tale of disaster, death, resolution and rebirth. It has a diverse range of characters that are well-drawn and woven convincingly into the story. Terrific tension builds through the six stories and there is something here for everyone.

It’s out on November 4th but go and pre-order it now!

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This entry was posted in Ancient History, Book Reviews, Historical Fiction, History. Bookmark the permalink.

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