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1st century/Early Roman empire
I definitely recommend this novel. I also feel it needs a ‘trigger warning’ for rape and child harm. If it has a theme, it is suffering, all the time, because it is rare that there is a time when at least one of the characters isn’t in some kind of pain. That isn’t preventing me from highly anticipating the final installment of the series, though!
The second novel in Marks’s early Roman Empire trilogy takes up very shortly after the end of the first. Theodosia Varro has escaped Rome along with Alexander, Stefan, and Lycos, her former slaves. They eventually land on the island of Euboea, off the eastern coast of Greece. Stefan and Alexander had previously befriended a farmer there, while Theodosia had still been in prison in the previous book, and it was to his farm that they fled.
Alexander had also gone searching for his wife, who he learned had died some years previously, but he was able to use rubies that Theodosia had given him to secure a letter of manumission for his son Nikolaos. He brings the boy back with him to the farm, where Stefan has married the farmer’s daughter, and they are starting to make a grand life for themselves. Alexander takes Theodosia, who had given him a new baby son, Doros, and Nikolaos, to the city of Eretria to start a new life for his family. As the years pass, Alexander builds a large shipping business, becoming a respected member of Eretrian society. However, Nikolaos’s rage towards Theodosia and Doros for replacing his own dead mother cause familial rifts that will have devastating repercussions.
Overall, this was another excellent novel by Marks. It picked up almost immediately after the end of the previous, which is appealing. This novel covers a lot more time than the previous, which took place over a handful of years. The Viper Amulet covers close to fifteen years. The sense of time is handled well, with children being born and growing but not with jarring gaps or jumps ahead in time. The characters each develop in their own ways, but in others they may take a step back. It was interesting to see how Theodosia reacted to life as a Greek woman, which was more limited than that of a Roman woman.
My favorite character was Myrene, Theodosia’s slave. She had an awful time in so many ways, but she was the strongest woman in the book and deserves all the credit for most of the good things that happened because of sheer force of will. Yes, things happened for Theodosia, but often because she played on her family’s name, not really any other reason. Myrene is the lady who gets stuff done, often while pregnant, just post-delivery, or just after any number of tragedies and traumas. She is a woman to be reckoned with and respected.
My only real quibble was with Nikolaos. Some animosity towards Theodosia and Doros when he was a child would have been understandable, at least if he had bonded with Alexander once he had been freed from his own slavery. However, it was never really made apparent that such a deep bond had occurred. If father/son bonding took place, it must have happened off the page. Then as Nikolaos aged, he should have outgrown his animosity. Possibly Alexander could have had an adult conversation with him rather than just commanding him to knock it off. If Alexander had decided to disown him in favor of Doros, for example, that would have given Nikolaos an understandable motive for his anger. The rage and hatred he harbors toward Theodosia and Doros is the catalyst for several plot points, so it is necessary, but the way it manifested - basically out of thin air and with no real explanation - got kind of stale after a while.
A very good read.
© Kristen McQuinn
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