Book Review

Margaret George’s THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO

George, Margaret - The Confessions of Young Nero - COVERTitle: The Confessions of Young Nero
Author: Margaret George
Primary Format: eBook, courtesy of NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group
Secondary Format: audiobook, read by Steve West, Susan Denaker, and Katharine McEwan
Start Date: March 8, 2017
End Date: March 22, 2017
Rating: 3 1/2 stars

There is no respect for hidden music. Whatever it meant, my life would be governed by it.

The Confessions of Young Nero was quite a fun book that allowed me to read and reminisce about ancient Rome.

Fun fact about me: I took three years of Latin back in high school, where we not only learned Latin, but also about the history of ancient Rome, read books such as The Aeneid, and memorized “The Pledge of Allegiance” in Latin (which I still remember to this day, more than ten years later). We even watched the BBC Miniseries I, Claudius!, which chronicled Emperor Claudius’ rise to power (Claudius was the emperor directly ahead of Nero in terms of succession).

Although I have heard of the Emperor Nero, I must admit that I did not know too much about him. Basically, all I knew was that he “fiddled while Rome burned” and not much else. (Well, unless you consider that he was also a fiddle-playing principal at Prufrock Preparatory School*, that is…)

principal nero from asoue
*Actual image of Principal Nero. May or may not also be from The Austere Academy by Lemony Snicket.

But I digress.

So, was Nero really as horrible as history tends to portray him to be? The author doesn’t seem to think so, and the actual facts gleaned from historical evidence seem to point toward the contrary.

From the author’s Afterword:

George, Margaret - AUTHORI was drawn to him as I sensed the vast gap between the perception of him and what he really was. It is possible, with the help of modern historical analysis, to blow the fog away and see a different person standing before you, not the madman who fiddled, the pyromaniac who burned Rome, the violent sex fiend and debauched tyrant, but a man of considerable talent, a visionary in many ways – in architecture and urban planning, engineering projects, diplomacy, and artistic freedom. He also was a man of integrity, ingenuity, and generosity.

Margaret George’s The Confessions of Young Nero is the first in a historical fiction duology of this often-misinterpreted emperor of ancient Rome. The story gives the reader an introspective look at the young Nero: from his days as a boy learning athletics and in love with chariot racing, to the day he became emperor at the tender age of sixteen, to the day Rome famously burned. It was an interesting insight into the mind of this character from ancient history, and I enjoyed learning about him, other historical characters, as well as the events surrounding him.

Although Nero lived a fairly privileged life, I still couldn’t help but feel sympathetic toward his plight. Yes, young Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus became Emperor Nero Claudius Caesar Drusus Germanicus, able to enact his will unto the people with little more than a blink of an eye. But the journey toward fulfilling the destination was rocky, to say the least: fraught with cunning, deceit, and murder (not necessarily in that order, and not necessarily by his own hand).

It was my first, and must brutal, lesson in what lengths to which evil people will go, and for what flimsy reasons. I have never forgotten it, nor let down my guard since. Let them call me cruel. Better that than dead.

The Nero that the author portrayed was unlike the Nero that I thought I knew. This Nero was traumatized from an early age (the very beginning of the book shows his attempted murder by the then-Emperor Caligula), living in a society where murder was an acceptable means to an end, and constantly going against the grain with his love of performing, chariot racing, not wearing a toga, and wearing his hair long (all of which were against the societal norms of the day).

This was a long (528 pages!) but rewarding read. The author did a good job of making Nero – as well as the other characters – relatable, complex, and interesting. If you’re interested in ancient Rome, seriously, give it a read. Margaret George is a wonderful writer, and I cannot wait to see how this book will conclude in its sequel!

Thank you to NetGalley and Berkley Publishing Group for an advanced copy of this eBook in exchange for an honest review!

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