Friday, January 23, 2015

'A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii'

I remember when I first heard rumblings about this book online. Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, and Stephanie Dray were sharing pictures, talking about Pompeiian history, and trading quips about their stories on FaceBook. The general public, (IE: me) just had to sit back and take it. Like a nineteen year old at a juice club, I could look but not touch. I’m sure Sophie Perinot, Vicky Alvear Shecter, and E. Knight were just as bad in this “tickle me, tease me, never release me it’s coming soon book” game. But at that time we weren’t connected on FaceBook so I couldn’t curse them under my breath like I could the previously mentioned three musketeers. 

Luckily my mother raised a Christian boy and I forgave all on release day. Except… there was a problem with initially finding it here in the U.S. So Christian boy loses part of his cool. Fine, I’ll get the eBook. Christian boy finds out that his iPad is no long accessible. Christian boy completely loses it and rains down enough curses to make Satan call Samuel Jackson and say “I think I found your apprentice.” 


After patiently waiting a few weeks like a good Christian boy should, I was able to get the print book and all became well with the world again. (ISIS, Paris, Inflate-gate, and Kim Kardashian in a fur bikini not withstanding.)

I didn’t read the synopsis about this book because I knew I was going to read it regardless. So I was a little puzzled as to why I kept hearing about the same characters and some of the same events. I knew this collection was going to be set in Pompeii, but I thought the authors were just going to write their own stories that took place whenever. Nope. All of these stories are intertwined with one another and it took me to story #3 to figure that out.  I was like, “didn’t I just read about Prima?” “Wasn’t that the Senator who…?” Once the dunce in me realized this, a light clicked on and I was “oooooohhhhhhh!”

Because of this I started reading slower, I knew if I sped along I would miss something. I also went back and skimmed some passages because I wanted to be clear on certain events. You probably won’t have this problem because you had the good sense God gave you to read the synopsis and realize this was the format from the start. 

Vicky Alvear Shecter opens with ‘The Son’, a story that takes place in a brother. BONUS! If I wasn’t already sold on this book, I damn sure was now! Since the authors in this collection were working in tandem, Vicky sets the foundation perfectly. How do I know? Because by the time I got to the end of this book, the character that I absolutely HATED at the end of her story, I had the slightest bit of sympathy for. But only a little. Maybe it was because I knew how Caecilius felt all too well. (Calling Dr. Freud) 

Sophie Perinot continues this short-story collection with ‘The Heiress’. Here I’m introduced to Aemilia, Lady Diana, and Sabinus, appealing characters added to this to this story-puzzle. I was quite taken with Lady Diana but oddly drawn to the somewhat tortured soul, Sabinus.

My friend Ben Kane (the only male contributor, lucky bastard) adds his flair with ‘The Soldier.’ Rufus adds a soldier/gladiatorial angle that I was looking for. If you’ve read any of Ben’s books you know why. 

‘The Senator’ by Kate Quinn follows and… wow.  Without throwing shade on any of the other authors, Kate’s story had me… had me… damn… it just had me. Witty and tragic with just the minimalist hint of hope. The scene with Marcus and Diana where he called her bizarre while she’s bandaging him up left me with my mouth gaped open! Her story is written beautifully. In other words, it matches her.

E. Knight follows with ‘The Mother’, easily the emotional apex of this collection. And I don’t say that lightly. Not at all. With how this collection of short-stories is written, slowly moving along the Pompeii destruction timeline, E. Knight’s story is that straw that will take you over the edge. If your eyes don’t get even the slightest bit damp, then your life force is as black and dark as a tar pit. 

‘The Whore’ by Stephanie Dray is given the honor of being the coda. And she brings this book full circle with the character whom I hated… HATED in the first story. By this time in the series my heart was beating pretty fast. And even though I know (we all know) how Pompeii meets her end, I was hoping that even through all the death, ash, sulfur, and fear, there would be a different resolution.  But the last page sealed that deal. All too well. I must have read the ending it a few dozen times… (I just read it again.) 

I don’t know which Swiss chalet these author retreated to in order to create a book that flows and reads as well as ‘A Day of Fire’, but I only hope they are planning another. Each of the six stories had soul, fire, depth, sensuality, and despair. Each author was able to bring their style and meld it into the formula of the group. 

The end of this book has each author giving us a brief background of their story. It’s pretty sobering to have confirmed (yet again) that Pompeii was a city of people. People who were going about their daily lives, feeling and hearing the tremors, but not thinking much about it. Peoples who’s lives were so quickly and efficiently snuffed out that we knew exactly what they were doing at their time of death! That is a bad ass macabre move by Mount V. 

Setting aside all my bad jokes and tangents, I had a lot of fun reading this book. And it’s one that I will recommend to every one of my Roman reading buddies. Well done.

1 comment:

  1. Hi Jason,

    I noticed you reviewed The Grim Reaper by Steve Alten a few years back. I am currently working with the author and I have his upcoming book up for review. If you're interested, please contact me at ireadbooktours at gmail dot com. You can also find more info at

    Laura Fabiani