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Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter: A BookReview

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii
Author: Vicky Alvear Shecter
Genre:  YA, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Release Date: 2014
Pages: 336
Source: My State Public Library
Synopsis: When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?

TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But his warrior's heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.

LUCIA is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she's been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .

When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them -- to Lucia's father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?

     My Review: I have always been fascinated by the tragedy of Pompeii. I’ve watched countless documentaries and read nonfiction books on the subject. When I found out that Vicky Alvear Shecter, author of one of my favorite books, Cleopatra’s Moon, decided to set her novel during Pompeii’s last few weeks, I couldn’t resist reading it. The story is focused on a forbidden romance between Lucia, a daughter of a wealthy Roman, and her slave, Tages, who often goes by his nickname Tag. When they realize that their lives are determined by Lucia’s father and not of their own choosing, they embark on a course for their own freedom, all amidst a curse that may befall their beloved city.

     The author paints a vivid portrait of the daily life in Pompeii. She tells us of the class distinctions between a slave and his master, and how a slave can obtain his freedom. She also gives us a description about the gladiators. There are some controversial themes in this novel that the reader needs to be aware of like infanticide, suicide, and the Roman’s beliefs of slavery. However, these themes portray the customs and beliefs that the Romans had during that time.

     The characters are very dynamic. At first, I didn’t like Lucia. She seemed to be an insipid character. She was selfish, whiny, and didn’t care about Tag or his family. She would always ask him what he thought about her and her feelings. She did not think or ask about him at all, unless it affected her. Some of the things she said were appalling.  For example, she believed that Tag should like being a slave because he is clothed, gets food, and has a roof over his head. This comment made me really angry. She treats Tag as a dog than as a human being. Yet, later, when Mt. Vesuvius erupts does she show a more compassionate and selfless side. She is willing to risk her life to save Tag.

     Tag also goes through changes. He is compassionate and selfless. He is willing to break a few rules in order to be with Lucia. Over the course of the novel, he realizes that he must choose family and honor over his love for Lucia. He knows that he has a responsibility to save those his family and friends, even though he knows he will lose the love of his life forever.

     Overall, the novel is about love, friendship, loss, sacrifice, and survival. The themes of this novel is about the nature of freedom. Freedom is the ultimate challenge and goal of this novel. The story is slow-paced and the plot is very predictable. There are no twists and turns in this book for it is mainly focused on their romance. Until then, the author goes on pace reminiscent as if it is waiting for the characters inevitable doom. The tone of the book is tragic, yet the ending is beautiful. While it is not as good as Cleopatra’s Moon, this book is still a worthy read. I recommend this book to anyone interested in Pompeii, forbidden love, and the quest for survival and freedom.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars



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