Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George - DNF Report

The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George is the second in the Nero series (I have not asked the publicist if the series will continue beyond two books) that began with The Confessions of Young Nero. I received a copy of The Splendor Before the Dark for review from Berkley Books and was hoping that I wouldn't find it problematic that I haven't read the first book. Unfortunately, I did have a little trouble with feeling like I needed a bit more backstory. I stopped just under 20% of the way into the book.

The Splendor Before the Dark begins with Nero awakening in his seaside home. Soon, his relaxing time is interrupted by an urgent message: Rome is on fire. Nero hastily dresses and heads to Rome, leaving his wife behind, in safety. When he arrives, Nero finds that the fire has been raging for days and shows no signs of being brought under control. The exciting and fast-paced descriptions of the Great Fire of Rome go on for nearly 50 pages and I found that I absolutely flew through them. It was only after the fire had been put out, Nero was working to house, feed, and clothe his citizens and drawing up a plan to rebuild that I began to realize that I needed to have read that first book because it was then that a diverse range of characters began to enter the picture. The author does a pretty good job of filling you in; I just felt like I needed more. I think the fact that I was exhausted from travel also entered into my decision to abandon the book. I wasn't getting anywhere at all. I'd often read a few pages and find that I was rereading paragraphs over and over, set it aside for a bit, and then come back to find myself struggling again.

I've wanted to read a Margaret George book for a long time and I'm glad I dipped my toes into the water, so to speak. While I was finding Nero a little too reasoned and calm for my taste, having read about his insanity all my life, I thought George's writing was excellent. I'll probably read up a little on Nero to see if I've misjudged him before returning to this series. I had no other real issues with it; I just needed to go back to the first book to get to know the characters and time period better. In fact, I learned a good bit. I had no idea, for example, that Ancient Rome had firefighters and found myself spending some time reading up on Roman firefighting.

I have The Memoirs of Cleopatra by Margaret George on my historical fiction shelves and I'll probably read that before acquiring or checking out the first Nero book from my library because it's a stand-alone. Without having finished The Splendor Before the Dark, I don't feel like I can recommend and I certainly wouldn't advise against reading it.  But, I can tell you that what I read was clearly well researched and absolutely engrossing. I just felt like I needed to back up and read the first novel before moving on. I was besotted enough with George's writing to feel like I should put The Memoirs of Cleopatra on next year's list of challenge books. The Splendor Before the Dark is a nice, thick book -- the kind that's great for reading on a cold winter's day in front of a fire. I just recommend reading The Confessions of Nero, first.

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