This is an excellent historical novel, one which blends character driven narrative with tightly plotted action. It is easy to let either action or character dominate the other; MC Scott avoids this by peopling her novel with a range of vibrant characters placed in dread peril.
I was intrigued that one of her central characters is a young boy of about the same age as Edgar, my protagonist in The Lost King, with all the opportunities which this gives to engage the reader. Math is a wonderful creation who will live long in my memory.
I loved many things about this book. One is that people of different ages play key roles whether young like Math or old like Shimon and Seneca. The other is that there are strong female characters. They are tough-minded, sensitive and sensual and move the plot and the world of the book. I hope to see more of Hannah in particular in future novels.
Scott’s writing is sensual and alluring. As I read the book I was thrown into the furnace heat of Alexandria and the fetid stews of Rome: ‘…the dawn mist rising from the river draped itself wetly over the stalls, saturating them all in the Tiber’s bouquet of drowned rats and duck shit and mud.’
She is also adept at the telling and insightful phrase: ‘His bare feet were hard as hooves from a lifetime’s unshod wanderings.’ Lovely writing.
There were a few occasions when I felt the characters placement in a scene was stretching the probable, serving the plot rather than the milieu or the characters’ motivations but these were few.
I most especially liked the way in which much of the conflict was not about warfare and fighting, although there was plenty of that. There was competition between chariot racing teams, fighting to master wilful horses, exhausting battles against immense fires, the clash of different beliefs and the conflict of loving too many people. Real conflicts which churned my heart and caused me tears.