Ancient Rome Historical Fiction

Beyond the Desert Gate

Book cover: 'Beyond the Desert Gate'
Author(s): 
Mary Ray
Copyright: 
2001
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
167 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Set in Palestine in the days leading up to the fall of Jerusalem in 70 A.D., this is a beautiful and powerful story of a Greek family living in the city of Philadelphia. On one of his business journeys, their father, who is a merchant/businessman, rescues a man whom Roman soldiers had left in the desert to die. The merchant's three sons have diverse reactions to this stranger who becomes part of the household, but when the Father is killed by bandits on a later journey, it seems that this stranger without a memory may have a providential role in their future.

The story illustrates the struggles of those caught up in the brutality of Roman rule, the horror of the fall of Jerusalem and touches upon the mysteries of suffering and death. While dealing with the different sorts of reactions that people have to the evils of Rome, the story does highlight - albeit in a subtle way (as good literature should) - the true paths that Christ showed us. An especially interesting contrast can be seen between the courage of the Christians before death (inspired by Christ and given his grace) with the Jews rebelling against Rome (whose motivations involved patriotism, but also hate).

The story is not overly intense, gory, or otherwise objectionable, but dwells upon serious and mature themes of death and suffering in a way suitable to teens and adults. Although the book is a sequel to The Ides of April (which is not apparent until well into the book), it could be read on its own as well.

Perspective: 
Catholic
Additional notes: 

Copyrights 1977/2001

Review Date: 
4-23-01
Reviewed by: 
Alicia Van Hecke

The City of the Golden House

Author(s): 
Madeleine Polland
Copyright: 
1963
Publisher: 
Hillside Education
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
297 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Suspense, danger, and drama fill the lives of two young boys during the reign of Nero in The City of the Golden House. After Rome burns, Nero sets out to build the most sumptuous palace ever, his future Golden House. This causes further unrest in an already starving and homeless population. To divert attention away from his extravagances, Nero blames the Christians for the fire. In the midst of this danger are Gretorix, a British slave, and his master Diomed, the crippled son of a Roman senator. Both are curious to find out more about this new, outlawed religion called Christianity, but do they dare? If caught, the penalty is death.

To leave his beloved home of England and then be thrust into the midst of this new and terrible world without the man he has come to respect as his father is sometimes more than Gretorix can bear, yet his emerging friendship with his new master and his discovery of Christianity give new meaning to his life.

Tired, angry, and frustrated with his crippled legs, Diomed feels trapped and lonely in his room until he finds a friend in Gretorix. For the first time, Diomed feels like he can see the world through Gretorix’s dangerous excursions into the city.

An intriguing story, appropriate for upper grade school.

Review Date: 
12-29-06
Reviewed by: 
Elizabeth Yank

The Ides of April

Book cover: 'The Ides of April'
Author(s): 
Mary Ray
Copyright: 
1999
Publisher: 
Bethlehem Books
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
165 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

When Hylas, a slave, discovers the death of his master, a Roman senator, he realizes that he is in dire straits. The harsh laws of ancient Rome dictate that all household slaves be killed should a murder be discovered in that home. Hylas enlists the help of Camillus Rufus, a tribune, to help clear the slaves of the judge's inevitable verdict of 'guilty!'

The Ides of April is an intriguing book set in 62 A.D. It's a classic murder mystery. The author, Mary Ray, paints a vivid picture of life in ancient Rome. Students will gain much technical information about the time period - social status, architecture, religion, laws, the games, and the working of a household.

Though the book is recommended for children "14 years and up", younger children would enjoy it as a read-aloud. It's on the "highly-recommended list" at our house.

Additional notes: 

Copyrights 1974/1999

Review Date: 
1999
Reviewed by: 
K.H.

The Laviniad

Book cover: 'The Laviniad'
Author(s): 
Claudio Salvucci
ISBN: 
964 423 405
Copyright: 
1994
Publisher: 
Evolution Publishing
Binding: 
Sewn Hardcover
Number of pages: 
80 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

The Laviniad is a truly unique work; the story is unique and the book itself is unique.

First the story: The author successfully writes in the style of the ancient epic in modern English, picking up the thread of the story of the Aeneid. The Laviniad takes up the tale of the Trojan settlement of Latium following the death of Aeneas. His son, Ascanius, assumes the leadership and almost immediatley must deal with the threat of Italians still hostile to the Trojan presence.

There are some pleasant similarities to the ancient epics, such as prophecies that are fulfilled in not quite the way the people expect, and the descriptions of the deaths of the heroes. The Trojans prevail in the end and Lavinia, Aeneas' widow gives birth to his child, the true and final mix of the blood of the Latins and the Trojans. Hope is restored to a people wearied by years of war and loss of life. Lovers of classic tales will really appreciate the poetry and the plot.

The poem reads easily and naturally with the flow and flavor of the ancient epics. A complete glossary in the back will help anyone who has not read the Aeneid or the Iliad to understand the relationship of the characters and the various names of the Greeks, Trojans, and Latins. It is not, strictly speaking, a sequel, however, a knowledge of the events of the Aeneid is helpful. A highschooler could appreciate the story whether or not he has read the Aeneid.

Now the book: I learned from the publisher that the author hand makes each book, binding and all! The story is printed on parchment and handsewn, not glued. The outer cover is a light blue cloth cover. It is a beautiful, elegant edition, wonderful for gift giving.

Additional notes: 

Binding details: Hardback with cloth covering

Review Date: 
8-12-04
Reviewed by: 
Margot Davidson

Word to Caesar

Author(s): 
Geoffrey Trease
Copyright: 
1955
Publisher: 
Hillside Education
Binding: 
Softcover
Number of pages: 
274 pages
Subject(s): 
Setting: 
Grade / Age level: 
Review: 

Set during Imperial Rome, Paul, a young boy, flees for his life when barbarians raid the Roman camp his father commands in Northern England. Wounded, exhausted, and orphaned, he barely makes it on the last boat leaving a nearby harbor. With the help of Lucius Fabius Severus, a Roman exile, he begins a new life. Out of gratitude for Severus helping save his life, Paul wants to reinstate Severus’ good name. But he must travel the length of the Roman Empire to do so, escape the clutches of wily villains, and speak with the Emperor Hadrian. Will he be able to accomplish such an insurmountable task? Urged on by the memory of his father’s high standards of conduct, Paul does not give up hope and always seeks to perform the noble action, even if it means risking his own life.

Although the main character is a boy, girls will enjoy this fast-paced adventure as well, especially when Severus’ daughter joins in the mission to clear her father’s name. A real page-turner, both my son and I polished it off in a few days. Because of our enthusiasm, my husband read it to the rest of the children. They too clamored to read another chapter and another.

More than a thrill-a-minute story, the reader learns a bit of Ancient Roman history, putting on flesh to those crumbing ruins. While the characters (except for Hadrian) are fictitious, the places in this story are real. A tourist can visit the remains of the Roman camp of Hardknot, as well as Bath and Ravenglass. In Italy, the farm in the Sabine Hills also still exists.

The book includes discussion questions and suggestions for essays. I particularly like the idea of tracing Paul’s trip from England to his final destination. This edition also includes maps, a picture of a bust of Hadrian, a picture of Hadrian’s tomb, historical notes, and a glossary with explanatory notes.

Review Date: 
5-5-06
Reviewed by: 
Elizabeth Yank