Tuesday, March 7, 2017

The Confessions of Young Nero

Title:  The Confessions of Young Nero
Author:  Margaret George
Publication Information:  Berkley. 2017. 528 pages.
ISBN:  0451473388 / 978-0451473387

Book Source:  I received this book as a publisher's galley through NetGalley free of cost in exchange for an honest review.

Opening Sentence:  "This is not the first time I have been imprisoned."

Favorite Quote:  "Gradually those thoughts lost their grip on me, as every thought will, sooner or later. I learned to live with the knowledge I had; people can get used to anything, even horror, and it begins to feel normal ... Thus we make peace with ourselves and our weaknesses..."

Many books recently have taken historical figures and built fiction around their stories. Readers have strong opinions on this in both directions. I look for two main things in a historical fiction book. First and foremost, it has to tell a story I enjoy. That, of course, is what I look for in all fiction. The plot, the characters, the emotion.

Second, I enjoy the fact that a fiction book points me in the direction of history I otherwise may not read. Never once do I take the fiction for history. It is not history. It is a story in a historical context. So, during or after reading a historical fiction book, I often find myself researching credible nonfiction sources for the history; the Afterword to this book presents many such resources for those with further interest. I probably will not read a nonfiction biography of Emperor Nero or a history of ancient Rome. However, I do find myself reading through online encyclopedias and other history sites to learn a little bit more about the historical context. Thus, a fiction book usually succeeds in causing me to learn history. Ultimately though, a fiction book is always about the story.

What makes this story work is the fact that it is about a young boy caught up in intrigues and machinations from his very birth. No one, not even his own mother, is someone he can count on. That initially sets up young Nero as a sympathetic character. The fact that this book starts when he is about three years old makes it even more so. That impact is intensified for most of the book is a first person narrative through his eyes. This doesn't match at all the image history portrays of the emperor, but remember, this is a fiction book about a child. As a reader, I feel sorry for him as a child. Through the book, I watch the growth, and I watch the young man emerge. That development of character makes for a good read.

What also makes this book work is the detail with which the ancient Roman world is described. Margaret George is known for doing extensive research and for bringing that to her books. Is it 100% historically correct? With a first person narrative through the eyes of a child and the word "confessions" in the title, I don't expect it to be. Again, I can find plenty of nonfiction sources for accurate, textbook descriptions. What works here is that this is the world of this book, and I can picture it as if I am present in it. One of Margaret George's previous novels has been made into a miniseries, and I can completely see this one interpreted in that format. I can envision the sights and sounds of this world, and that makes for a good read.

Be warned. This is part 1 of a two book set. As such, it of course ends at a crucial point. Considering it's easily possible to look up Nero's history, it's not really a cliffhanger. We all know how this story ends. However, in the fictional world, it will keep me waiting for the next book even as the author and publisher celebrate the publication day of this first one.
*** BLOG TOUR - Welcome Margaret George! ***

Listen to Margaret George discussing defining moments of Nero's life.

by Margaret George
Berkley Hardcover
On Sale: March 7, 2016
Price: $28.00
ISBN: 9780451473387

THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO takes readers through the early life of Rome’s infamous Nero. Through the machinations of his mother, Agrippina the Younger, Nero became emperor at the age of sixteen, the last of the Julio-Claudian dynasty. But the road was a frightening one.  The young boy, an intelligent, sensitive and watchful child, had a series of psychological shocks from an early age.  His cruel uncle Caligula and his scheming cousin Messalina threatened his life, and his domineering and ambitious mother Agrippina married and poisoned two men en route to securing the throne for her son. Agrippina viewed Nero’s power as an extension of her own will. But once on the throne—like the teenage boy he was—Nero did not want to take orders from his mother.  Soon the world was not big enough for the two of them. Thereafter he was remembered as a hedonist and tyrant who “fiddled” while his people burned. But the truth behind the caricature, revealed here, shows Nero to be instead a product of his mother’s relentless ambition, and the incest, violence, luxury, and intrigue that have gripped Rome’s seat of power for generations.

Margaret George is the author of the bestselling Autobiography of Henry VIIIMary, Queen of Scotland and the IslesThe Memoirs of Cleopatra; and Mary, Called Magdalene.
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