Curses and Smoke

(one of two covers for the book)

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Published May 27, 2014

Sixteen year old Lucia is betrothed to Vitulus, a significantly-older wealthy man, and is not pleased with the arrangement. Her father runs a gladiator school in Pompeii and is hoping Lucia’s future husband will allow him to break into gladiator fighting in Rome. Tag is a medical slave in the gladiator school like his father before him. Tag and Lucia played together as children, but he was sent to Rome for a few years as punishment and has only recently come back to Pompeii. They start to have feelings for each other, but both know it is impossible given their difference in social status.

A pretentious young rich man named Quintus comes to stay at Lucia’s villa, and train in the gladiator school. After Tag helps Quintus out of a jam in gladiator school, he manages to get Lucia’s father to agree to train Tag as long as Tag trains with him. Tag had trained as a gladiator previously in Rome, and saw it as a way to achieve his freedom. He reluctantly agrees to train with Quintus. Meanwhile, Lucia has been noticing all the strange natural phenomena around Pompeii and knows something is wrong, but can’t quite figure out what. Will Lucia and Tag be able to move forward with their lives and love? Recommended for ages 12+, 3-1/2 stars.

I really liked this book. The way the author seamlessly blended in Latin names with English ones, making it so even those who didn’t study Latin in high school or college understand almost everything. She had very vivid descriptions of everything, so you can, for example, totally picture yourself walking with a Roman girl and her maid through the market in Pompeii on a beautiful summer day and seeing all the sights, sounds and smells around you. This goes double for the scenes of the actual eruption of Vesuvius. I can’t even imagine how that must’ve felt, even the descriptions were horrifying. I also liked that the author used the newly updated dates for the destruction of Pompeii and the surrounding cities, which she explains in the author’s note at the end of the book.

While I enjoy reading historically accurate fiction, I am very glad not to have been a woman during that time period. A daughter, like Lucia, no matter how intelligent and articulate could be treated as cattle and sold off to the highest bidder. The abandonment of female babies part of the story, as a mother, really bothered me. I know it was done in Greek and Roman times, but I find it selfish to get rid of a child simply because you don’t like the sex. I liked the romance between Lucia and Tag, especially the kisses. Although Cassandra Clare will probably always be my favorite writer for kisses, Ms Shechter comes in a close second. I also liked that Tag’s family came from Etruscan nobility, and that despite his slave status, he carries himself well.

I do have one comment about the countdown to the eruption. It took me forever to figure out that the time listed under the start of each chapter was the countdown to the eruption of Mt Vesuvius and not a time period at an earlier date. Not sure how to make it more obvious, but it was really confusing for awhile. I was also rather frustrated with the ending, as it seemed like they overcame such insane obstacles to escape only to be thwarted by fate in the end.

Disclaimer: I received this book via NetGalley in exchange for my honest review.