Admit it. When you hear the name Nero, you think of the late great Peter Ustinov’s performance in the movie Quo Vadis. If you do not know what I am referring to, check out IMDB. The common view of Nero is he was (in no particular order) a madman, a murderer, a incestuous son, the persecutor of Christians, a third rate artist and a lousy husband. That image of Nero is exactly why Margaret George has written The Confessions of Young Nero. Ms. George states in her Afterward that she was “drawn to him as I sensed the vast gap between the perception of him and what he really was.” I am glad to wrote this book as it addressed the myth and the man.
I have read several of Ms. George’s previous books. One of my biggest personal library losses is the disappearance of my hardback copy of The Autobiography of Henry VIII (1986) somewhere in the last two moves since 1988. She is a very talented writer who uses hard research as the skeleton she fleshes out in her historical fiction. The Afterward of this book explains in detail how Nero’s reputation was sabotaged and how she worked through many sources to find unbiased resources.
The book begins when Nero is three years old and his uncle Caligula tries to drown him. Great trust building exercise. The majority of the chapters are narrated by Nero. There are occasionally other narrators, such as his mother Agrippina, Locusta (the premier poisoner of Rome), and Acte, the freedwoman who loved him. These short changes of perspective help pull all the different strands of the story together. It is a complex story. Anything that deals with the Roman Empire is complex.
George’s Nero is not the full grown ruler of the largest empire in the world. He is a small child, raised by Greek slaves and freedmen. He is a child who comes to loved his step-father and watches as his mother destroys him to satisfy her own ambition. He is helpless and a pawn in the larger schemes of others. As he comes to terms with his mother’s ambitions of him, he still strives to be the best of what his step-father’s hopes for him were.
Nero’s slide from the his good intentions to his heavy handed rule is well documented. This is where George’s genius shines. She creates a full story, complete characters and believable environments. She is historical fiction at it’s best. This is the first part of a two part novel, the first time George has done this. I am looking forward to the next novel.