Roma by Steven Saylor

Roma by Steven Saylor(Cover picture courtesy of Liberia Estudio en Escarlata.)

Spanning a thousand years, and following the shifting fortunes of two families though the ages, this is the epic saga of Rome, the city and its people.


Weaving history, legend, and new archaeological discoveries into a spellbinding narrative, critically acclaimed novelist Steven Saylor gives new life to the drama of the city’s first thousand years — from the founding of the city by the ill-fated twins Romulus and Remus, through Rome’s astonishing ascent to become the capitol of the most powerful empire in history. Roma recounts the tragedy of the hero-traitor Coriolanus, the capture of the city by the Gauls, the invasion of Hannibal, the bitter political struggles of the patricians and plebeians, and the ultimate death of Rome’s republic with the triumph, and assassination, of Julius Caesar.


Witnessing this history, and sometimes playing key roles, are the descendents of two of Rome’s first families, the Potitius and Pinarius clans:  One is the confidant of Romulus. One is born a slave and tempts a Vestal virgin to break her vows. One becomes a mass murderer. And one becomes the heir of Julius Caesar. Linking the generations is a mysterious talisman as ancient as the city itself.


Epic in every sense of the word, Roma is a panoramic historical saga and Saylor’s finest achievement to date.

When I first started Roma I’ll admit I did have my doubts because of Steven Saylor’s telling rather than showing style of writing.  However, I got into the swing of things and actually began enjoying his pared-down style that reads almost like a more intimate nonfiction work about the lives of two ancient Roman clans.

One of the most obvious strengths of Steven Saylor’s writing is the historical accuracy of the novel.  He does change some events around and speculate about some things but where there was information available he stuck to the facts.  I like how he doesn’t play the origins of ancient Rome straight (i.e. with gods and such) but rather offers up some explanations for how the heck such fantastical stories about Rome’s founding came about.  It makes sense and it’s quite possible that some of these things actually happened in a similar way and that’s why I really loved how Steven Saylor stayed true to the history.

His characters are amazing.  Every single one has a different perspective and a very unique voice.  They all live in turbulent times in Rome’s history so of course their lives are fascinating but it’s how they deal with the changing times that really stands out.  Some of the earlier Pinarii are quite snobby about their patrician status; later when the family is poor that’s not really the case.  Of course some of the ideas presented by characters will seem utterly absurd to modern readers but they really capture the prevailing attitudes of the time.

I can’t in all honesty call the plot fast-paced but it was very interesting.  I mean, how could Roman history not be interesting?  We get to see the events surrounding the first sack of Rome, the rise of Julius Caesar, the Second Punic War, etc.  All of the major events during the Republic period of ancient Rome are here in the novel or at least are alluded to because the characters are still dealing with the aftereffects of said events.  It’s a fascinating look at Roman history and although there was more telling than showing I still thoroughly enjoyed Roma.

I give this book 4/5 stars.

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Cleopatra’s Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Cleopatra's Moon by Vicky Alvear Shecter(Cover picture courtesy of The Book Girl Recommends.)

Princess of Egypt

Cleopatra Selene is the only daughter of the brilliant Queen Cleopatra of Egypt and General Marcus Antonius of Rome.  She’s grown up with jewels on her arms and servants at her feet, and she longs to follow her mother in becoming a great and powerful queen.

Prisoner of Rome

Then the Roman ruler, Octavianus, launches a war that destroys all Selene has ever known.  Taken to live in his palace in Rome, she vows to defeat him and reclaim her kingdom at all costs.  Yet Selene soon finds herself torn between two young men and two paths to power.  Will love distract her from her goal—or help her achieve her true destiny?

Epic in scope and ravishing in detail, this novel reveals the remarkable true story of a girl long hidden in history: the extraordinary Cleopatra Selene.

I know you won’t believe it, but I found something in this book that is generally an oxymoron: a believable love triangle.  Yes, I found the rarest kind of YA book out there!  It’s believable and it resolves itself in the end where the main character makes a powerful decision rather than angsting over who she should choose.

After reading Michelle Moran’s Cleopatra’s Daughter, I thought that Cleopatra’s Moon wouldn’t be much different.  But I am so glad I decided to buy Vicky Alvear Shecter’s book!  It had a completely different perspective from Moran’s and the sort of antagonist of the novel came completely out of nowhere.  Hint: it’s definitely not who you think it is but it makes sense when you look back in the story.  Cleopatra Selene comes off as a strong character who comes by her feminism honestly in a world dominated by men, rather than being your stereotypical girl with 21st century perspectives in historical fiction.  You can really feel her anguish at her mother’s and father’s deaths as well as the growing distance between herself and her twin, Alexander Helios.

Not only that, the men in her life are quite believable as well.  Juba comes off as aloof and thoroughly Romanized in the beginning, but we start to see his strength of character later on.  Of course Marcellus is incredibly charming but intelligent as well and a potential path to power for Selene.  I like how Selene doesn’t just stand by as boys drool over her; she actively pursues them once she realizes their feelings and tries to reconcile her own.  She also has incredible determination when it comes to reclaiming her birthright and that makes her both believable as a daughter of Cleopatra and a character everyone will cheer for.

As for the historical accuracy, I can’t nitpick.  Some of the mystery surrounding events at the time allows for a little creative license and Vicky Alvear Shecter doesn’t take it over the top.  She fills in gaps with plausible explanations and where there are historical records, sticks to them very well.  Her portrayals of historical figures are realistic and you kind of get the feeling that hey, this is what they could have really been like.  That, my friends, is great writing combined with great research.  What more can you ask for in historical fiction, really?

I give this book 5/5 stars.

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