Monday, March 27, 2006

The Roman Games by Alison Futrell

Skarr, one of our regular contributors to this site by way of reviews, has recently received a copy of "The Roman Games" by Alison Futrell for review from :

I have just been alerted that he will review this work, which is a compilation of various historical sources on the Roman Games, will be reviewed shortly and will be published at the history site above as well as on this site.

Thanks, Skarr and looking forward to receiving your review.

"The Roman Games" is published by Blackwell Publishing ( and the author is Associate Professor of Roman History at the University of Arizona in Tucson. According to the book, this work "presents a wealth of material that casts light on the rich tradition of Roman spectacle, with special focus on gladiatorial combat and chariot racing."

To me, Roman Games have always held a profound fascination and I'm really looking forward to the review and will also read the book shortly. Popular movies like "Gladiator" and "Ben-Hur" have already captured the public's imagination in different decades and I do think that the chariot race in "Ben-Hur" is one of the best depictions of this sport that will ever be filmed. I don't think they'll ever be able to film a race like that, using live horses and actors who spent months training how to control a team of four horses to run around the oval track. Millions were spent (translate that into hundreds of millions it would cost today) to stage that event for film.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Review : A.D. 62 Pompeii by Rebecca East

This novel is a fanciful work of imagination by the author, Rebecca East, as it traces the hypothetical journey of a woman who is stranded in Pompeii during the first century AD.

The story begins in the modern world with a time travel experiment that goes wrong. Finding herself in the first century without the proper means to assert herself, our heroine, Miranda, is forced into slavery and has to rely on her modern wits to survive in that harsh reality.

As a historical writer, I found some of the sequences too tame and consequently, a little unbelievable, particularly in the manner in which she is treated. There is an unreal quality throughout the book and the pacing is also a little slow. For example, the author hints but does not touch upon the numerous sexual liaisons among the slaves, which are carried out in secret. However, by some incredible piece of luck, she remains utterly chaste and outside of this inner circle.

Writing with an almost Victorian sense of prudery, the novel lacks any real vigor, either in its depiction of the social lives of the slaves or masters or the violent times during which it is set in. It is almost as if the author took a watercolor brush and painted a nice, pristine picture of the ancient world instead of depicting the harsh realities and the grim existence of the people she talks about.

There are some nice touches here and there but they are too few and far in between. All in all, I found this lacking in excitement and although the historical detail is rich in parts and shows the obvious scholarship of the author, I don't think this works well as a novel.

The characters don't engage in interesting conversations and it is as if the protagonist is stuck behind a glass, acting solely as observer with a detached mindset. This is a major shortcoming in any novel and that would explain the unreal quality I was referring to in an earlier paragraph.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I would award a maximum of three stars to this work, mostly for its historical detail. There is considerable potential in the novel and a skilled editor would have enhanced its content a great deal.

The book is available at for those who are interested. I would recommend that they purchase this if they are interested in Roman history and would like to learn a little about Pompeii.