Ever since I read Margaret George’s book on Cleopatra, I have been a big fan. She takes history and makes it come to life through her storytelling. Many times, when I read historical fiction books, they can get very dry and boring as they try to provide context. George is one of the few who can give you the facts without it becoming dry. I was super excited to hear about this book and after reading it, I have to say that the author has once again created a masterful story.
In the Roman empire, one’s ancestry can lead to death. Even as a young boy, Nero’s royal heritage has put him in harm’s way, first when emperor Caligula tried to drown him, then when his great aunt tried to have him killed to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with such shocking betrayal by his own kin, Nero knows that it is better to be cruel than dead. And Nero’s survival rests in the hands of his mother, a cold-blooded woman whose goal in life is to control the empire, be it through her son – or by other means. Through cunning and poison, Nero’s mother manages to dispatch all rivals and remove all obstacles. But Nero is determined to escape her grasp, and this desire is what will shape him into the man he was fated to be: a legendary Emperor.
In this story, Margaret George paints a very sensitive picture of Nero, one that shows his generosity, his love for his people and nation, and his desire to be loved. It humanizes him in a way that no textbook could ever do. Steeped in interesting historical facts from this time period, we see Nero growing up and bear witness to the psychological trauma he endures. It’s enough to make you feel sorry for him; everywhere he turns, someone is being killed and no one can be trusted. We also see the negative aspects of Nero: his paranoia, his sexual deviances, his outlandish spending. Nero is in no way perfect. By acknowledging and showing these sides of him, it creates a fuller picture of this man who became Emperor. I also loved the way that George integrates cultural facts about Roman and Greek society into the story in a seamless way; it makes it all come to life and in a very interesting and amusing way. Nothing about this book is dull, there is depth and focus and appropriate detailing throughout. Overall, an enjoyable read that has given me an intriguing glimpse into ancient Rome! Anyone who loves historical fiction should definitely give Margaret George and her novels a chance!