The Confessions of Young Nero Review

Synopsis: The New York Times bestselling and legendary author of Helen of Troy and Elizabeth I now turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.

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.

Review: 4/5

My first ever Netgalley (ish) review! Big thanks to Putnam for involving me in this.

This book = THE ME I’M TRYNA BE IN 2017.

If you follow my reviews, like, at all, then you know as a rule I never pick good books out for myself. I consistently pick up YA contemporaries and silly fantasy when I know I almost never enjoy them. Genres I actually like – classics, middle grade adventure, historical fiction – well, I rarely give them the time of day, my friends. And true to form, I didn’t pick this one – Putnam did. Honestly, I probably never would have picked this book up. BUT THE ONLY REASON FOR THAT IS MY OWN STUPIDITY.

I love historical fiction. It’s one of my favorite genres (even if it’s one of my least read), probably because it disappoints me most infrequently. No, but seriously – it combines two of my favorite-est things: history and books. (Fun fact, I almost majored in history before I remembered who I am as a person!) I was thrilled to pick this book up. Especially an ARC because I love to feel superior and reading books before they come out feels like being part of an elite club. Sue me!

On a sidenote, anyone who has read my review of A Gathering of Shadows (slash a bajillion other YA books) knows how I feel about the strong, cruel, misunderstood cultural elite who just wants to be luuuuurved. But I pretty much forgot that was even a trope (and one I can’t stand, at that!) while I was reading this book. YA authors trying to create the next Will Herondale: TRY THIS ON FOR SIZE. (Well, not actually. “You’re not like other girls” would sound pretty strange coming out of Nero’s mouth. I actually take it all back – Nero is more of an illustration of how dumb that trope is. BUT AT LEAST THIS BOOK IS GOOD, OK?)

This. Book. Is. Wild. Craaaaazy stuff goes down. Uncomfortable stuff, even. Okay, VERY uncomfortable stuff. But the insane amount of research the author put into this makes the whole thing feel natural. When historical fiction is done right – and I mean REALLY right – you’ll get no complaints from me. Zero. Zip. Nada. Nero could have ridden an elephant into British court while juggling tomatoes and counting backwards in Mandarin, and I’d be like, “Wow! I had no idea the world was so connected back then :)”

Anyway. I didn’t know anything about Nero beyond his name and the fact that he was adopted (yeah, I took a ton of high school history classes, what of it?) and that SUCKS. (Not just because my total ignorance could have led to the aforementioned reaction.) This story is so bananas and wild and fun and should be taught more. The reason I love history (and historical fiction) is that it is filled with some of the greatest stories of all time. Human history, IMHO, is the greatest story ever told. SO MAKE HISTORY AS COOL AS IT ACTUALLY IS, HIGH SCHOOLS. (Sorry I said IMHO like it’s too hard to type “in my honest opinion.” Won’t happen again. Experiment failed, back to the drawing board, etc etc.)

Sorry about that. As I write this, it’s a Friday, I haven’t gotten more than 4 hours of sleep since last weekend, and I’m a bit loopy. Also I’m eating straight frosting with a spoon so that can’t be helping.

This book wasn’t perfect, though. The perspective of this book could be a tad off-putting, as Nero is a very young child as the book begins…and it’s not exactly a Room-style look into the head of a toddler. It’s a testament to the research and the world George built (except not really? Except yeah?) that this is only a small stumble.

Plus, I’m not used to reading books like this, and it could feel…unwieldy. It’s pretty long and I’ve been really busy of late (if you couldn’t tell by the fact that I’m 7 books behind on my reading challenge – super cool! Love it! Huge fan of that!). I didn’t always love the writing style, either. On the very first page, I was like, AM I MAKING A HUGE MISTAKE?!

Happily, though, the answer to that existential crisis/wordless scream in the abyss/question was no. Reading this book really felt like taking a step closer to ancient Rome, if not stepping within it. Dunno if I’ll be able to check out another Margaret George book anytime soon, but this experience definitely inspired me to pick up historical fiction more often. Such a fabulous genre.

Bottom line: I know this is way out of the comfort zone/reading habits of most of you lovely people, but if you’re into history, Rome, or trying out new things, I encourage you all to pick this one up!

PS: If you pick up this book, read the afterword. This is coming from someone who never reads introductions, included critical essays, acknowledgments, endnotes…hell, sometimes I skip footnotes. But Margaret George is a goddamn machine.

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