Book Review: The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George

The Confessions of Young Nero by Margaret George
My rating: 4 of 5 stars
Publisher: Berkley Books

Summary:   Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar's imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman or child.

As a boy, Nero's royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son's inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina's machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero's determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become, an Emperor who became legendary.

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy's ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.

My first Margaret George book was The Memoirs of Cleopatra and I fell totally in love with her style. I read every one I came across since and have never been disappointed. When I saw she'd taken on Nero, I knew it was a must read for me. In addition to being a George fan, I happen to love all things Julian & Claudian so this would be the perfect convergence.

It was good but not as immersive as other books I've read of George. I don't quite know why but I admit that I felt a bit of remove from Nero's recounting of life. Instead of being on tenterhooks about what next would happen to him, I found myself looking for other characters I know from the time and being thrilled when they showed up. Some of them showed up with more color than I felt from Nero (Agrippina, Locusta & Poppea really deserve mention here). I applaud George for giving Nero a different take than the usual notorious figure he's usually painted as. It reminded me of I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith for that.

This ends in a cliffhanger at a pivotal and exciting moment so it's clear that the best is yet to come. I will definitely be reading the second part of this and hope that not only will Nero be more vibrant in the telling so the next book will have more staying power in the memory.

If you're looking for an I,Claudius, this isn't that. This is a serviceable telling to be sure but it's not of George's usual "sweeps you away" style. I daresay that if you're less familiar with the time and players you'll enjoy it more. Recommended.

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