Pompeii was a lively resort flourishing in the shadow of Mount Vesuvius at the height of the Roman Empire. When Vesuvius erupted in an explosion of flame and ash, the entire town would be destroyed. Some of its citizens died in the chaos, some escaped the mountain's wrath . . . and these are their stories:
A boy loses his innocence in Pompeii's flourishing streets.
An heiress dreads her wedding day, not knowing it will be swallowed by fire.
An ex-legionary stakes his entire future on a gladiator bout destined never to be finished.
A crippled senator welcomes death, until a tomboy on horseback comes to his rescue.
A young mother faces an impossible choice for her unborn child as the ash falls.
A priestess and a whore seek redemption and resurrection as the town is buried.
Six authors bring to life overlapping stories of patricians and slaves, warriors and politicians, villains and heroes who cross each others' path during Pompeii's fiery end. But who will escape, and who will be buried for eternity?
If you are fascinated by the fate of Pompeii and its residents and gobble up the documentaries on the history channels, like me, and recently watched the big Hollywood action flick Pompeii and were disappointed in it, as I was, treat yourself to A Day of Fire and prepare to immerse yourself in the heart of a city on the brink of destruction. I'd had the pleasure of reading four of the authors featured in this collection before, so I just knew this had to be good, and it was!
A Day of Fire was a unique read for me. I've read a few novella collections, but never was one constructed in such a way that all of the stories truly worked together to form a whole picture, and it's genius in its design. The stories follow the progression of the eruption of Mount Vesuvius, from the warning-filled days leading up to the eruption to the scramble for survival as ash and stone rain down on the streets to the final deathly silence that remains after the pyroclastic flow entombs the city.
The reader experiences this devastating event from the points of view of six main characters, the Son, the Heiress, the Soldier, the Senator, the Mother, and the Whore, and I loved the way featuring different people from different walks of life in different parts of the city combined to form such a complete picture of life in Pompeii. Even the manner in which these people were connected—friends of friends, business relationships, romantic encounters, common enemies, chance meetings—
underscored the humanity and sense of community in this hedonistic resort town where pleasures, and people, are bought and sold, and where everyone has an angle.
Through these stories and characters, the reader experiences the heartache of first love and the transition of a boy to a man; the lack of freedom for even the most pampered and high-born of young women and the quiet strength of a noble heart; the struggles of those who have become addicted to the city's vices to their own detriment, for whom the destruction of Pompeii may be their saving grace; the poignant observations of a philosophical man trying to make sense of the devastation and coming to grips with his own mortality; the tragic choice a mother-to-be must make for a child born to a dying world; and the travails of sex trade workers who find self-worth and redemption of the spirit in the midst of calamity.
While all of the stories are good, the final three stories (The Senator, The Mother, and The Whore) really shine. They are the strongest, most intense, and most emotional as the eruption continues and those who could not make it out of the city resign themselves to their fate while those who did manage to escape must grapple with the survivor's guilt that plagues them and the destruction of life as they knew it. I loved the way some threads that had been left hanging in previous stories all came together in the end, and that epilogue had me in tears. There are a few weak spots that keep me from calling this collection perfect, but the novel as a whole is fantastic. I'm so impressed with the way these stories were written and woven together. A Day of Fire is a must-read for anyone who wants to learn more about Pompeii, and historical fiction readers who revel in experiencing history through the ordinary people who lived it should find much to love in this unique and memorable collaboration.
My Rating: 4.5 Stars out of 5
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