Thursday, May 29, 2014

Book Review: Curses and Smoke, by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Shecter writes another compelling historical novel in Curses and Smoke. I really enjoyed Cleopatra's Moon, so when I saw her name on another title, I had to have it.

We are in Pompeii, and the earth is rumbling. We as readers know what is destined for this ancient city, but before that happens, we get to know some individuals who will be affected by this tragedy. Our first perspective is Lucia's. She is the daughter of a wealthy man who owns a school for gladiators. Actually, he's lost some of his wealth, and has arranged for Lucia to marry a gruesome 80-year-old man to help him regain some money and power. Lucia prays fervently to the gods to somehow escape this arranged marriage.

The second perspective is Tag, a slave who has been trained as a healer and recently returned to Pompeii. Tag and Lucia used to play together when they were young. When Lucia realizes that Tag has returned, a secret romance ensues.

All the while, the earth is rumbling and Lucia is convinced something is wrong, but she's only a woman so no one will listen to her.

To round out the colorful characters, there's Lucia's friend who is pregnant, a royal who wants to attend the gladiator school (and may have an ulterior motive), and a little boy who idolizes Tag and wants to learn to be a healer. Lucia learns some awful secrets about her father, which makes her even more determined to get out of this marriage.

Things blow up in Lucia's and Tag's lives (as well as literally.) The ending is a bit unexpected, but we know at the outset that this isn't going to be a "happily ever after" story. The characters are fictional, although Shecter did her research to depict what might have happened before and during the eruption of Mount Vesuvius and explains her thought processes in an author's note at the end of Curses and Smoke.

Historically, this probably didn't add much to my understanding, and I didn't seem to connect with these characters as much as those in Cleopatra's Moon. However, given that I'm an historical fiction fan, I really enjoyed every minuter of Curses and Smoke. I think anyone who wants a romanticized version of a horrible historical event will enjoy this one too.

Published by Arthur A. Levine, May 27, 2014
eARC obtained from NetGalley
336 pages

Rating: 3.5/5

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