Monday, May 26, 2014

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter

Rating: ★ ★ ★ ☆ ☆
Obtained from: Historical Fiction Virtual Book Tours/Netgalley
Read: April 10, 2014

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?

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Pompeii, cast of a dog dead in the 79 AD eruption.
Image by Claus Ableiter
The cataclysmic Plinian eruption of Mount Vesuvius is well-known, but the event is surprisingly hard to find in the world historic fiction which is why I jumped at reading Vicky Alvear Shecter's Curses and Smoke. 

A young adult fiction, the book actually has a lot going for it, but my favorite aspect was the seemingly insignificant details Shecter sprinkled throughout the text. The graffiti in the market place, Lucia's advanced pregnancy, Minos' collar, the heavy shackles worn by those training for the arena... Those less familiar with the archaeological evidence wouldn't necessarily notice, but these tidbits are direct references to discoveries made at the Italian dig site and represent a deeply appreciated dedication to accuracy. 

I was further impressed by the direction of Shecter's narrative. I won’t ruin it by going into the details, but having studied the historic record, I expected the plot to follow an established course of events was both surprised and pleased with the author's decision to offer her readers something original and unexpected. 

Unfortunately, these strengths were undermined by Shecter's heroine. Though I appreciated Lucia's interest in geology, I often found her musings too advanced for the period, a fact which more than once pulled me out of the environment Shecter had extended so much effort to creative. Ideally, I would have liked to see subtly in her thinking, something that felt more appropriate to the ancient world.

When all is said and done, I enjoyed Curses and Smoke for its illustration of a culture lost to time, fire and ash. I admit mature readers might have difficulty accepting Shecter's application of the supernatural, feel her character portraits simple and dialogue stilted, but regardless, I feel the book is a strong narrative when compared alongside other young adult historicals. 

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“It is Turan, the Etruscan goddess of love,” he said quietly. “Like your Venus. She is known for helping lovers. For keeping them safe.” 
She examined it curiously. “I thought it was Psyche at first, because of the wings,” she said.
“She is also like Psyche, the soul,” he whispered. “You hold my soul in your hands.”
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Check Out All the Stops on Vicky Alvear Shecter's Curses and Smoke Virtual Book Tour Schedule

Monday, May 26
Review at Flashlight Commentary
Review & Giveaway at The Mad Reviewer
Tuesday, May 27
Guest Post & Giveaway at Flashlight Commentary
Wednesday, May 28
Review & Giveaway at Fiction Folio
Thursday, May 29
Review at Good Books and Good Wine
Friday, May 30
Guest Post at Good Books and Good Wine
Monday, June 2
Review at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Tuesday, June 3
Review at Geek Girl’s Book Blog
Interview & Giveaway at Oh, For the Hook of a Book
Wednesday, June 4
Review at Book Drunkard
Thursday, June 5
Review at Book Lovers Paradise
Friday, June 6
Review at The Book Belles
Review at Manga Maniac Cafe
Monday, June 9
Review at Bibliophilia, Please
Review & Giveaway at A Bookish Affair
Tuesday, June 10
Review & Giveaway at Historical Tapestry
Wednesday, June 11
Interview & Giveaway at Passages to the Past
Thursday, June 12
Review at Let Them Read Books
Review at Svetlana’s Reads and Views
Friday, June 13
Review at Broken Teepee
Guest Post & Giveaway at Let Them Read Books

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