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Rubies of the Viper Kindle Edition
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The ability to capture the essence of ancient Rome is evident from the opening of Martha’s book. In a matter of a few words she has established the distant past with veracity, suggesting that she indeed has more than traveling experience as her connection to old Rome: ‘Gaius Terentius Varro lurched out of the riverfront brothel, snapped his fingers at the slaves snoring on the pavement, and crawled into his litter. The bearers hoisted their belching burden and set off through the dark toward the Caelian Hill. It was a trip they had made every third or fourth night for years. The two men waiting behind a pile of discarded lumber were not there by habit. As the litter neared, they pulled hoods over their heads, drew curved Syrian daggers, and moved into the street. One blade sought the Roman’s heart, spurting hot blood onto his white tunic. The other slashed wide and deep across the patrician throat, nearly severing the head. The groggy, unarmed slaves offered no resistance, and within moments the master of one of Rome’s greatest fortunes lay dead on his plump silk cushions.’
And with that background the synopsis outlines where the volume will take us – ‘AD 53 — Strong-willed, impetuous, and naive, Theodosia Varro inherits the family estate after her brother is murdered on the streets of Rome. With no preparation, she goes from poverty and isolation to great wealth and a prestigious position in society. Only by identifying her brother's killer can she feel safe, yet her efforts take her in quite the opposite direction. After her own actions and the scheming of others lead to catastrophe, Theodosia struggles to survive and recover what matters most in her life.’
Powerful, evocative visit to ancient Rome with both its history shared (in the back of the book is a fine summation of the actual facts of the time of the novel) and its embracing of slavery, Martha Marks takes s there with this superb novel and leaves us eager for the next installment! Grady Harp, January 18
Characterization is fine for most supporting characters but not so good for the main one. Theodosia, the street-smart protagonist, managed to survive humble and unscathed, living alone at sixteen in a Roman slum, yet the moment she inherits amazing wealth and position, she starts acting bratty and downright reckless. So, as I progressed through the story, the heroine's inconsistent behaviour became irritating and, despite her appalling ordeal, I felt no sympathy for her plight. The main issue for me is that all the big, life-altering events are entirely due to Theodosia's monumental idiocy, stubbornness and refusal to follow good advice.
The pace is a bit uneven. I'm a sensitive reader with a vivid imagination. For the first half of the story, I was bothered by the unremitting gore and brutality that, to me, are overpowering to the detriment of other aspects of daily life. By the 60% mark, the story moves away from Rome and follows Alexander, the Greek steward of Theodosia's villa and estate. I loved Alexander's portrayal. He's a fully fleshed out, complex character who really made things interesting. The pace also picks up, where it had been dragging before. By the time of the musical competition, I was ready to forgive the author for the drawn-out melodrama of the Carcer. That whole section is superb and full of dramatic tension.
The plot is action-driven and, for the most part, it works. However, a huge suspension of belief is required when it comes to Theodosia's physical prowess with knives and horses. I won't discuss too many specifics, but the horse sequences are wildly improbable, and here I speak from long experience. From galloping bareback in a thunderstorm to how much one can push an exhausted horse, to effectively riding an animal used to pulling a cart, it was all high fantasy and almost cartoonish. Also, one has to remember that, in Roman times, all horse breeds were small, barely over 14 hands high, and comparable to our large ponies, as evidenced by friezes and equestrian statues of the times.
Despite my stated criticism, I enjoyed this book. If you like historical sagas with strong-minded characters and an abundance of political intrigue, backstabbing and physical action, give this lively tale a try.
Most recent customer reviews
' a great read with many enjoyable characters (or deplorable...Read more
The story circles around Theodosia Varro.Read more