Historical fiction, here we go again. I could just copy past everything I said in my last book review about Nefertiti. Basically, historical fiction has disappointed me quite a few times. I mean.... How do you manage to get almost historical detail wrong? How? How hard it is to translate a simple well known Latin saying? Ubi tu Gaius, ego Gaia doesn't mean 'I'm now a member of your clan'! I mean how do you come up with a translation like that. I get it - you don't know Latin, but please ask someone, don't embarrass yourself. The author did include a lot of details from Roman life, too bad she got them most of them wrong. But, perhaps I'm a being bit too strict with her. After all, unlike Nefertiti, this is one historical fiction that I liked...How come, you might ask? Fortunately, this book is not only about Romans. If it was, I couldn't never make it through its more than a thousand pages.
This novel opens up on the night of Auriane's birth. Her father? A known German warlord away fighting the enemy (that would be Romans). Her mother? Barely conscious from childbearing pains. Time period? During the rain of Nero the book says. So, you get the picture. It is going to be ancient Romans vs. German tribes kind of book. In other words, a historical fiction with a bit of gladiator action. I'm going to jump ahead and say that the book is divided in two parts, meaning- the narrative occurs in two distinct words/lands (Germania and Roman Empire) and it features two main characters. I already mentioned Auriane. So, who is our hero in the Roman world? Marcus/ Endymion! Unfortunately, he is not nearly as likable as Auriane. He is a noble born boy who accidentally ends up as a slave (kind of ridiculous story) but fortunately Marcus' father finds him again. If only he didn't! As long as I'm spilling it all out, I'll add that I couldn't stand this character. He is so perfect in every way that it is extremely annoying- not to mention hard to believe. He fights for everything and everyone, including the rights of chickens (I'm not kidding!). He is horrified by chickens not being given breakfast so they would eat grain faster in a ceremony that is meant to bless the wedding- Such cruelty! Consequently, all the other characters inhabiting this Roman world look like villains compared to him...and unfortunately, for most part they seem to be.
That's another thing I didn't like- the way the Roman world was presented, it reminded me of C rated Hollywood films- you know the ones with the screaming Christians being eaten by lions...or even worse those where Christian seemed to enjoy being eaten by lions? Now, if you were born in Europe most likely you've seen enough Roman ruins and art to grant them sophistication- if nothing else. Even if you don't care about history or art, you must understand that Roman world was a bit more complex than a group of intoxicated people busying themselves primarily with killing one another, complex fortifications and killing of Christians (which bad Hollywood films seems to have integrated into the human mind). Not to dwell forever on this topic, I'll just add that Marcus is one of the least convincing protagonist written. I can't believe these two protagonist (Auriane and Marcus) were written by the same writer. One is a caricature, the other- our Auriene so well rounded, vulnerable and human- well, for the most part- but I'll get to that. In fact, I would have liked this book a great deal more if there was no Roman part of it. Not because don't take an interest in ancient Roman history- it is because I do that I resent it being turned into such a cliche.
Quite frankly, I would have given this book two stars if it hadn't been for Auriane. For most part, I found her to be a well developed character. Her portrayal is not without flaws, at times the way she behaves is even quite silly (especially towards the end), but the overall impression is still good. She is so vulnerable and human, so full of self doubt and yet her deeds of courage make perfect sense. You can feel her struggle, you can follow her train of thought. Plus, there is some definite character development and you know I love those. The characters that surround our heroine, for example her parents ( mother and father) were convincing too. The hating grandmother was a nice touch. The 'witch' that practically saves her life by helping deliver her mother and later on tries to claim her as her student---now that is a formidable character in her own right. I felt sorry that she didn't get a bigger part in this one.
Auriane is a character that got under my skin. It is easy to feel how and why she feels such a love for her people. I found it easy to relate to her. She is the book's true hero (or better to say heroine) so liking her made the reading experience a lot more enjoyable. She basically saved this book for me. If it wasn't for her, it wouldn't have been any good. What is my main beef with this novel? Well, let's say it like this. For the last 300 pages or so (the book is about 1000 pages long), I could see everything coming. I could guess with fair certainly most of events even sooner that that, yet had the ending been better written I wouldn't particularly mind that- this way I did mind it. This way, almost half of this book was quite boring to me. As I said, this novel has two protagonists. Towards the end of the book- and I don't think this is a spoiler because it is hinted at start--- their paths cross, there is the clash of these two worlds. The German world meets the Roman one- and alas things get a bit boring and unconvincing really fast. Too bad- but that part still remained to keep my interest. It is written just well enough to keep you turning those pages, but not so well for you to actually enjoy it. That is my verdict anyway.
At this point, the writing gets sloppy. Everything goes down hill. Even Auriane' character suffers and loses most of her credibly- she does get her moments of clarity, episodes when she feels real again and there is an interesting mythical experience that connects well with her roots but that's about it. I'm a sucker for European mythology. There is a lot talk of German pagan mythology, believes and customs in this novel so obviously I liked those passages. Some parts of that whole mythology thing were well woven into the story, so that is one of the reason why I liked this novel so much. Additional bonus, let's say. Then there were those really great moments - and I can say there were some parts (in which Auriane's character and her actions really made sense) I really liked- or at any rate I liked them enough to justify reading this one and those bad parts. Long story short, my feelings about this one are mixed.
All things said and done, when I actually closed the book, Auriane still felt alive to me. So, I think I will just ignore the sloppy writing (which unfortunately makes for about 50 percent) and remember those brilliant moments. I will maintain that this novel is a bit more than ok, in other words- It's good. Not very good, just good. It is often entertaining despite being filled with cliches and it has its moments of depth. Besides, I don't think that the average person is going to notice all the historical details that the author got wrong. Her translation of Latin phrases was surprisingly bad- I mean how hard it is to look up a well know Latin saying? Sheer laziness if you ask me- but then again not that important.