Wrath of the Furies by Steven Saylor

***ARC received from San Francisco Book Review in exchange for an honest review***

Amazon.com description:

Wrath of the Fuires

Wrath of the Furies

In 88 B.C., it seems as if the entire ancient world is at war. In the west, the Italian states are rebelling against Rome; in the east, Mithridates is marching through and conquering the Roman Asian provinces. Even in the relatively calm Alexandria, a coup has brought a new Pharaoh to power and chaos to the streets. The young Gordianus has been waiting out the chaos in Alexandria, with Bethesda, when he gets a cryptic message from his former tutor and friend, Antipater. Now in Ephesus, as part of Mithridates’ entourage, Antipater seems to think that his life is in imminent danger.

To rescue him, Gordianus concocts a daring, even foolhardy, scheme to go “behind enemy lines” and bring Antipater to safety. But there are powerful, and deadly forces, at work here, which have their own plans for Gordianus. Not entirely sure whether he’s a player or a pawn, Gordianus must unravel the mystery behind the message if he’s to save himself and the people he holds most dear.

My take:

I love historical fiction that makes me what to learn more about history.  Steven Saylor has brought the ancient world to life in a way history books never can. History is more than just names and dates of battles; it’s the people, the emotions, the absolute brutality of that time. Meticulously detailed, Saylor effortlessly interweaves historical and fictional characters with true historical events. It is easy to envision the opulence of the nobility and the squalor of the Roman refugees through the intense narrative.  By focusing on such a tumultuous time period in ancient history, the author piques the readers interest to find out more about the events and historical figures (at least this reader’s interest). Some of the passages, the descriptions of the torture inflicted on Roman prisoners, are difficult to get through simply because they are so vividly (and accurately) described.

Through the inclusion of diary segments from Anitpater, Gordianus’ mentor and tutor, the author also manages to add personal narrative and reflection to the time period. One passage more than any stuck out to me, drawing parallels to more recent history.

“A deliberate campaign of deriding and belittling the Romans has been going on, making them not only objects of fear and loathing, but also of ridicule. They have been set apart, not only by having been driven from their homes and forced to seek sanctuary, but by such measures as the degree that they must wear the toga – ostensibly so that decent folk can see these thieves and rapists coming and protect themselves.”

History is bound to repeat itself.

I was initially horrified to learn that this was book 14 written by Steven Saylor with Gordianus the Finder as the main character. However, Wrath of the Furies is the third book in Steven Saylor’s Novels of Ancient Rome series, a prequel series to his  Roma sub Rosa series, and is easily read as a stand-alone book.  Any references the author makes to previous situations do not leave the reader confused or left in the dark, but rather leaves the reader wanting to find out exactly what happened. A superb read for anyone with a modicum of interest in history.

Ophelia’s Muse by Rita Cameron


*** ARC from San Francisco Book Review for honest review ***

Elizabeth ‘Lizzie’ Siddal is working in a milliner’s shop to help support her struggling family when she catches the eye one of the pre-Raphaelite Brotherhood (PRB) artists. Convinced to sit for him as an artist’s model, Lizzie quickly becomes the darling of the PRB movement and especially that of Dante Gabriel Rossetti, the charming and charismatic co-founder of the PRB. Throughout their tumultuous affair, Lizzie struggles with depression, drug addiction, and Rossetti’s infidelity to find her own identity.

Rita Cameron weaves a heart-wrenchingly tragic love story full of rich detail and texture. Through the use of existing paintings, poetry, and letters Ophelia’s Muse imagines the intricate details of lives of several renowned artists of the PRB movement. This is a luxuriously written historical fiction that draws heavily from history as well as the author’s imagination. I both loved and disliked this book for it is a real love story, full of ecstasy and heartbreak.

Lizzie did not fit the mold of the ideal Victorian woman. Her height, slight figure, and pale complexion were not within the fashion of the times. She was also well-read, a bit of a day dreamer, and reserved in her manner. She is concerned for her reputation and the propriety of being an artist’s model as they did not have the best of reputations. However, she is convinced by her employer that sitting for gentlemen painters might introduce her to more polite society and open her prospects for marriage. This might have been true had she not met Rossetti and been drawn into his life.

As a young artist Rossetti imagined himself to be chivalrous and imbued with the ideals of courtly love. His fascination with Dante Alighieri, and Alighieri’s muse Beatrice, bordered on obsession. Upon discovering Lizzie, Rossetti transfers that obsession to her imagining her to be his own Beatrice. He pulls her into his social circle and life to the detriment of Lizzie’s standing in polite society and her mental well-being. Emotionally manipulative, Rossetti strings Lizzie along for years, jealously guarding his artistic muse while exploring his own artistic proclivities elsewhere. “He wanted to savor what they had, and was in no rush to change it. He desired the Lizzie who walked among other women like a goddess, who fed upon nothing more than love and poetry, and demanded nothing more, or less, than worship.”

Lizzie finds herself in a precarious situation. Her unorthodox relationship with Rossetti results in her family disowning her and she is forced to rely on Rossetti, regardless of his resistance to marrying her. She spends years trying to make sense of his feelings for her. “How could she have pinned her hopes on a man who seemed to create his reality to meet his needs as easily, and often, as he created new worlds in his paintings? She would never be sure where she stood with him, what version of her he wanted at any moment-whether he wanted the woman or the muse; the collaborator in his art or merely the silent beauty in his paintings?” It is only when she appears to be upon her deathbed that Rossetti finally marries her.

Reading this book from the perspective of 2015, it is easy to see that Lizzie suffers from depression and drug addiction. Rita Cameron does a wonderful job of not spelling this out for the reader. She describes the emotional rollercoaster Lizzie rides through her entire relationship with Rossetti – her hopes, her dreams, her disappointment – In a way that draws on the reader’s empathy, allowing the reader to make their own judgment and determination. Cameron provides Rossetti’s perspective as well and it is easy to imagine him as a modern-day rock star telling Lizzie, ‘I have to be free to be me, babe.’

I am by no means an art connoisseur and my knowledge of art is limited to the art appreciation class I took in college. I found myself on many occasions finding pictures of the paintings on the internet while reading Ophelia’s Muse – being able to see the art and to imagine the artist’s perspective while reading added so much to the experience of the book. I don’t recommend doing this if you are not already familiar with the particulars of Rossetti and Lizzie’s lives – it will give the story away.