Author: Margaret George
Genre: historical fiction
Published: March 7 2016
Source: ARC via publishers
Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar s imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman or child.Some Emperors' names and deeds stand out in the centuries and histories since their time in power passed. There are the "good" Emperors like Augustus, Trajan, Justinian (etc.) that have lasted the test of time, and there were their counterparts: the criminal despots, the insane tyrants, the deluded would-be kings like Caligula, Domitian, and of course, Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, rechistened Nero, famous for playing his violin while Rome burned. With her newest novel The Confessions of Young Nero, veteran historical fiction author Margaret George launches a new duology; intended to closely recount the life of one of Rome's most contentious figures from his inauspicious beginning to his inglorious end. In just this first book, George demonstrates why her books are consistently bestsellers and makes old territory feel fresh and original.
As a boy, Nero s royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son s inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.
While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina s machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero s determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become an Emperor who became legendary.
With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy s ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.
Margaret George books are rigorous, researched, and verbose. Her descriptive style lends toward creating a very visual narrative, (and the occasional infodump) but the main storyline can feel somewhat slow-moving at times, dragged down by setting up all the various pieces and players in the political landscape. The Confessions of Young Nero is a big book and takes time to delve into the plot -- spanning decades, there's a lot of ground and pertinent history to cover. Nero may have only lived thirty years (not all of which are even subject to this book's plot) but his years were full and make for plenty of plot fodder. Despite the large scope, this is a detailed, methodical, researched history of Nero's early childhood and the first ten years of his reign as Emperor. The book presents a recognizable but more humane version of the final ruler in the Julio-Claudian dynasty and how his life and rule might have looked.
With such vast knowledge of the tangled political situation and of the history of Rome, Margaret George is able to render an alternate version of the one-note villain Nero is remembered to be. He's not an innocent by any means, but he was a product of his blood-soaked, power-hungry time. The author creates a plausible reasons and explanations for how and what shaped him in his pivotal years. Using that knowledge and clever plotting, The Confessions of Young Nero depicts several believable iterations of Nero at various stages in life, as politics and family begin to exert their power and influence. First Lucius is shown as a smart, troubled young artist-type, an off-beat product of his proud family, then developed into a quick political student able to take risks to secure his position, and finally showing him as Nero Claudius Caesar Augustus Germanicus, the unqualified but cunning young Emperor at the close of the novel. It's a big evolution but it's handled smoothly and with reason over the hundreds of pages that make up the novel.
The Confessions of Young Nero manages to put a fresh spin on an old, well-known story. Painting a more balanced view of Nero while firmly establishing the time and culture surrounding him, this first novel in Margaret George's planned series is a solid beginning.