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Wrath of the Furies

by Kilian Melloy
Tuesday Nov 17, 2015
Wrath of the Furies

Steven Saylor has concocted one of his best novels so far with this tale of intrigue and extraordinarily bloody reckonings.

"Wrath of the Furies" is the latest in Saylor's series of prequel novels (to the Roma Sub Rosa series) that recount the adventures of a young Gordianus, the son of a Roman famed as a "finder" -- what we'd think of today as a detective. (In the Rosa Sub Roma series, set decades later, Gordianus is a finder himself, and forever embroiled in murderous schemes that cleverly dovetail with actual hieratic figures and events.)

The new novel combines the ancient world-spanning focus on travel with the close examination of major historic people and happenings that have marked Saylor's novels from the first. (His best-selling "Roman Blood" kicked it all off.) Godiaus and his beautiful slave Bethesda remain in Alexandria, the guests of a pair of friendly, wealthy eunuchs, as all of Egypt teeters on the brink of war. When Gordianus receives a page stolen from the secret diary of his old tutor Antipater (with whom he toured the Seven Wonders of the World in earlier adventures) and learns that Antipater is a reluctant member of King Mithridates' retinue in the city of Ephesus, he comes up with a plan to travel to Ephesus and see if he can offer his help.

The problem is that Mithridates has driven the Romans out of number of previously-occupied lands -- Ephesus among them. The world is a dangerous place for a young Roman traveling away from Rome, so Gordianus poses as a mute Alexandrian traveling to the Temple of Artemis in Ephesus to pray for the return of his voice. (Bethesda, a native of Egypt, accompanies him and does all the talking.)

But the journey quickly takes on an entirely different purpose, as Gordianus is drawn into political schemes that force him to agree to become a spy. Meanwhile, unknown to any but a select few, Mithridates has drawn up a plan to eradicate a vast number of stranded Roman refugees caught in the lands he's reclaimed from Rome -- a plan so audacious and sweeping that the Furies themselves might rise, either to avenge it -- or to participate in its unprecedented savagery.

Saylor treads many fine lines here: Between the supernatural and the pragmatic; between ancient conceptions and mind-sets and the things that the modern reader will find credible; and, most tellingly, between our own murky understanding of what the ancient world was like and more modern versions of human atrocities. (The parallels between Mithridates' pitiless and overwhelmingly horrific plan and the worst episodes of the last hundred years tend to shock and dismay.) But the book offers plenty of humor, color, and drama -- and some sassy bits, too, including a surprising relation of same-sex love.

Underlying the story and plotting is Saylor's fine-grained comprehension of life thousands of years ago in Rome, Egypt, and other lands. "Wrath of the Furies" is the fifteenth book in his "Novels of the Ancient World," but his narrative vigor and imaginative powers are still full-bore. This read is so absorbing you might come back to the 21st century with a start once you put it down.

Saylor's fans will thrill to see him in top form here, and neophytes getting their first taste of the series will be hooked.


"Wrath of the Furies"
Hardcover
$26.99
http://us.macmillan.com/books/9781250015983

Kilian Melloy serves as EDGE Media Network's Assistant Arts Editor. He also reviews theater for WBUR. His professional memberships include the National Lesbian & Gay Journalists Association, the Boston Online Film Critics Association, The Gay and Lesbian Entertainment Critics Association, and the Boston Theater Critics Association's Elliot Norton Awards Committee.


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