Intricately described, well-plotted historical fiction set in ancient Rome.


Levin’s novel blends the history of the Second and Third Punic Wars with a richly detailed peek into ancient Roman culture.

In the novel’s first of three sections, Levin textures scenes in which young Lucius Tullius Varro prepares for the Second Punic War with details ranging from Roman dress customs to typical wartime psychology. In his training, equestrian-class Lucius befriends the Consul’s patrician son, Publius Correlius Scipio. At the recommendation of young Scipio, Lucius is accepted to the Consul’s cavalry; his chief regret is that he must leave his newly pregnant wife, Silvia. In war, Lucius records information gathered by Roman scouts. In consideration of the extremes that the enemy would go to extract this information from Lucius were he caught, he’s equipped with a flask of poison. When the time comes, however, it’s the agile Celtiberian girl Ala who saves Lucius, installing herself as Lucius’ mistress-for-life. After situating Ala near his home, he explains her to the heroically levelheaded Silvia. At times, the sweeping conveyance of battle, even as it constitutes a fascinating description of events, eclipses Lucius as a character. In the second section, Lucius’s cousin Enneus reports his capture from Consul Flaminius’ cavalry and his subsequent 21-year stint as a Greek politician’s slave. Before the end of this section, we’ve witnessed the emancipation of Enneus and his rise to a respectable degree of prosperity. The final section repeats several previous conversations nearly verbatim; while these are shared through the perspective of Enneus’s son, Ectorius, his perspective does not seem to meaningfully color them enough to justify their repetition. While it would benefit from further polishing, this novel comprises worthy historical fiction. Naturally, readers already interested in the Roman-Carthaginian wars will find this account gratifying; however, those less steeped in knowledge of the era may also find themselves rapidly engaged owing to the three accessible and riveting narrators.

Intricately described, well-plotted historical fiction set in ancient Rome.

Pub Date: Dec. 6, 2011

ISBN: 978-1426996085

Page Count: 308

Publisher: Trafford

Review Posted Online: June 20, 2012

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Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

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A retelling of ancient Greek lore gives exhilarating voice to a witch.

“Monsters are a boon for gods. Imagine all the prayers.” So says Circe, a sly, petulant, and finally commanding voice that narrates the entirety of Miller’s dazzling second novel. The writer returns to Homer, the wellspring that led her to an Orange Prize for The Song of Achilles (2012). This time, she dips into The Odyssey for the legend of Circe, a nymph who turns Odysseus’ crew of men into pigs. The novel, with its distinctive feminist tang, starts with the sentence: “When I was born, the name for what I was did not exist.” Readers will relish following the puzzle of this unpromising daughter of the sun god Helios and his wife, Perse, who had negligible use for their child. It takes banishment to the island Aeaea for Circe to sense her calling as a sorceress: “I will not be like a bird bred in a cage, I thought, too dull to fly even when the door stands open. I stepped into those woods and my life began.” This lonely, scorned figure learns herbs and potions, surrounds herself with lions, and, in a heart-stopping chapter, outwits the monster Scylla to propel Daedalus and his boat to safety. She makes lovers of Hermes and then two mortal men. She midwifes the birth of the Minotaur on Crete and performs her own C-section. And as she grows in power, she muses that “not even Odysseus could talk his way past [her] witchcraft. He had talked his way past the witch instead.” Circe’s fascination with mortals becomes the book’s marrow and delivers its thrilling ending. All the while, the supernatural sits intriguingly alongside “the tonic of ordinary things.” A few passages coil toward melodrama, and one inelegant line after a rape seems jarringly modern, but the spell holds fast. Expect Miller’s readership to mushroom like one of Circe’s spells.

Miller makes Homer pertinent to women facing 21st-century monsters.

Pub Date: April 10, 2018

ISBN: 978-0-316-55634-7

Page Count: 400

Publisher: Little, Brown

Review Posted Online: Jan. 23, 2018

Kirkus Reviews Issue: Feb. 1, 2018

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While a few weeks ago it seemed as if Praeger would have a two month lead over Dutton in their presentation of this Soviet best seller, both the "authorized" edition (Dutton's) and the "unauthorized" (Praeger's) will appear almost simultaneously. There has been considerable advance attention on what appears to be as much of a publishing cause celebre here as the original appearance of the book in Russia. Without entering into the scrimmage, or dismissing it as a plague on both your houses, we will limit ourselves to a few facts. Royalties from the "unauthorized" edition will go to the International Rescue Committee; Dutton with their contracted edition is adhering to copyright conventions. The Praeger edition has two translators and one of them is the translator of Doctor Zhivago Dutton's translator, Ralph Parker, has been stigmatized by Praeger as "an apologist for the Soviet regime". To the untutored eye, the Dutton translation seems a little more literary, the Praeger perhaps closer to the rather primitive style of the original. The book itself is an account of one day in the three thousand six hundred and fifty three days of the sentence to be served by a carpenter, Ivan Denisovich Shukhov. (Solzhenitsyn was a political prisoner.) From the unrelenting cold without, to the conditions within, from the bathhouse to the latrine to the cells where survival for more than two weeks is impossible, this records the hopeless facts of existence as faced by thousands who went on "living like this, with your eyes on the ground". The Dutton edition has an excellent introduction providing an orientation on the political background to its appearance in Russia by Marvin Kalb. All involved in its publication (translators, introducers, etc.) claim for it great "artistic" values which we cannot share, although there is no question of its importance as a political and human document and as significant and tangible evidence of the de-Stalinization program.

Pub Date: June 15, 1963

ISBN: 0451228146

Page Count: 181

Publisher: Praeger

Review Posted Online: Oct. 5, 2011

Kirkus Reviews Issue: June 15, 1963

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