Sunday, October 24, 2010

What is Steven Saylor reading?

The current featured contributor at Writers Read: Steven Saylor, author to the recently released Empire: The Novel of Imperial Rome.

His entry begins:
Most of my reading these days is devoted to primary sources for Roman history—everything from the chronicles of Livy to the plays of Seneca to the satires of Lucian. But I also love to read purely for escape, and in that regard I am strangely addicted to the novels of the Italian archaeologist, historical novelist, and thriller writer Valerio Massimo Manfredi.

Strangely, I say, because VMM has got to be one of the most uneven writers around. His historical novels about the Ancient World range from quite fine (The Last Legion, Tyrant, The Talisman of Troy, The Lost Army) to so-so (The Ides of March) to embarrassingly bad (Empire of Dragons).

(I have so far avoided reading the books for which VMM is best known, a trilogy of novels about Alexander the Great which were big bestsellers across Europe; VMM is so oblivious of the male-male sexuality of the ancient Greeks that I am not eager to compare his Alexander to the Alexander of Mary Renault.)

Along with historical novels, VMM also writes “thrillers”—at least they are marketed as thrillers, but the author is so blithely unfettered by genre rules and reader expectations that these books are actually unclassifiable. Like popcorn, I find them addictive and enjoyable, but ultimately unsatisfying; since VMM is willing to pull any old rabbit out of the hat (including ridiculous supernatural explanations), it hardly matters what happens in these potboilers. The Oracle is harebrained but quite atmospheric, and the breathless plotting of Pharaoh kept me turning the pages, but The Tower is a leading contender for Worst Novel Ever Written. If...[read on]
Among the early praise for Empire:
“Thrilling...with one of the greatest authors of historical fiction as our guide, it’s a glorious ride.”
USA Today

“Saylor is an excellent guide through this fascinating underworld. Superb historical fiction.”
Booklist (starred review)

“Historical events provide plenty of depraved details and comparisons that beg to be drawn to today; lions and gladiators in the arena, volcanic eruptions, live burials, and master illusionists abound to fire up any number of dinner conversations.... Recommended for anyone who enjoys Roman history.”
Library Journal

“Saylor...vividly describes how the family survives the volcanic destruction of Pompeii, the burning of Rome, and the persecution of Jews and Christians...the ending...[may] signal another volume to come in this grand series.”
Publishers Weekly

“Filled with tales of intrigue, ambition, violence, and suspense... a vivid evocation of the bloodthirsty, chaotic spectacle that was ancient Rome, and an example of how the best historical fiction brings the past to life.”
Archaeology Magazine
Visit Steven Saylor's website and Facebook page.

Writers Read: Steven Saylor.

--Marshal Zeringue