Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter
Published by Scholastic on February 6, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance, YA
Pages: 336 : Paperback edition
Source: Purchased at a Scholastic Warehouse sale
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When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?
TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master’s injured gladiators. But his warrior’s heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.
LUCIA is the daughter of Tag’s owner, doomed by her father’s greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she’s been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .
When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them — to Lucia’s father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?
This is the second YA historical fiction book by Vicky Alvear Shecter (the first being Cleopatra’s Moon) and I love the way she interweaves fiction with history to tell a fascinating and complex story. As you can tell by the title, this one focuses on the tragedy of Pompeii and the volcanic eruption of Mt. Vesuvias. Ever since I was little, I had been fascinated with the events of Pompeii (not 100% sure why) and when I saw this I just had to pick it up.
Our story focuses around two main characters, Lucia (a rich daughter of a man who owns and trains gladiator fighters) and Tages, aka Tag (a poor slave who is owned by Lucia’s father and was childhood friends with Lucia). I love that Ms. Shecter created Lucia as a character who, in a patriarchal society, she remained strong in her scientific beliefs and had a mind of her own. She defied a lot of what was considered “proper” and stood up for herself, sometimes a rare thing to find in even characters of this century. Tag was also a strong character and he went through quite a bit of development, even right up until the very last page.
I loved seeing not only their interactions, but their journey leading up to the eruption. The last quarter of the book moved along at quite a fast pace which I liked because it kept up with the confusion surrounding the post-eruption. That’s not to say that I didn’t like the first three quarters of the book; quite the contrary! Again, Ms. Shecter did an excellent job of transporting me to this ancient city/world and integrating and explaining different facets of life while also progressing through the characters own plots. Overall, just a really fantastic read and, as usual, I look forward to when she releases another historical fiction novel