TITLE: City on Fire: A Novel of Pompeii
AUTHOR: Tracy L. Higley
PUBLISHER: Thomas Nelson, 2013
City on Fire: A Novel of Pompeii begins in Jerusalem in 70 A.D., during the chaos of the destruction of the temple. Ariella, a young Jewish woman, has survived the slaughter that killed all of her family, except for herself and her younger brother. They are separated as each is sold into slavery. She spends nine years in the wealthy household of Valerius, a Roman whose moral tastes are openly Bacchanalian. On the annual feast nights celebrating all the vile activities supposedly demanded by his god, Valerius chooses Ariella to be his “special companion”--until she escapes through a different form of slavery, when she disguises herself as a young gladiator-in-training, replacing another young slave. She travels with this group to Pompeii, where the story remains through most of the book.
There we meet Quintus Cato, a wealthy Roman who had lost a fiercely fought election in Rome in hopes of bringing an end to cruelty, oppression, injustice and corruption in government; and Gnaeus Nigidius Maius, the only one of two city council members who counts, and enemy of the people. We learn something, too, of the Christians, whose supposed “mystery rites” are never described in the book. And all the time, things are heating up, inside the beautiful mountain known as Vesuvius.
The story moves throughout from one main character to the other. I found it gripping, overall, although there were a couple of times when I wasn't sure I could continue. Those sections--a few pages at a time--that focused on the nature of the Bacchanalian mystery rights--very nearly nauseated me. Each time, I felt that I could not take one more paragraph of it, let alone one more page. But each time, the focus shifted, again, just before I would have quit.
As the crescendo built toward the crisis point, I found it increasingly difficult to put my Kindle down and attend to other matters. Overall, I really enjoyed and appreciated the historical nature of the book and was eager to read the author's Story Behind the Story at the end. I cannot imagine the research that went into the writing, and the creative imagination that came up with the characters and their roles in the story.
However, I am stymied, unable to decide between four and five stars, and I know I have to decide. I hesitate to give the book five stars, because of those passages that depicted such evil--and the knowledge that, as the author wrote of Rome, our own countrymen and -women have traded morals for thrills. But not everyone will react quite as strongly as I did, and the author really has done a masterful work, here. So with high recommendation, for those who like historical fiction and appreciate a Christian perspective, I give the book *****.
Disclosure of Material Connection: I received this book free from Thomas Nelson Publishers as part of their BookSneeze program. I was not required to write a positive review. The opinions I have expressed are my own.