5 stars · history · romance · young adult

Curses and Smoke by Vicky Alvear Shecter


Curses and Smoke

author : vicky alvear shecter

pages : [hardcover] 336

favorite character : castor

summary :

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?

review :

This book was amazing!

First of all, I’ve always been fascinated by Pompeii, and I think that it all started when I read a Magic Tree House book about the subject (actually, I think that series taught me a whole lot more than I realized. I’ve really wanted to read more historical fiction and usually the books I tend to reach for are centered around WWII. This is such a huge and lovely difference because I don’t think I’ve ever seen another YA book quite like this. To be honest, I came into Curses and Smoke with a specific set of expectations, thinking that I’d be let down. The last few books I’d read weren’t so wonderful and some YA books seem to follow a set pattern that leaves me disappointed.

But Curses and Smoke truly took every thought that I’d had about the characters and plot and turned it upside-down. Not immediately in the beginning of the novel but gradually, leaving me clamoring for more.

Lucia is one of the two narrators of the novel and I definitely felt sorry for her. Some part of me is always pained whenever I read about past societies in which females had no choice in their lives and weren’t treated as equals. Lucia was also because she was a bookworm and scholar, creating her own theories about nature even though men would think her silly. Even better? She was so much smarter than the men mocking her! For a pampered rich woman, she was also extremely strong.

Tag was so easy to love. I empathized with him from the start. I also love how his opening scenes paint a picture of what his character might do for the rest of the novel. Yet there are several twists that affect his life, that I didn’t see coming, that change what you’ve been led to believe will happen with him. But his relationship with Castor (or maybe just the little boy himself) was my favorite. That was where a lot of the heart I felt in this book originated.

Something I loved about the novel but that also made me very emotional was the fact that I’ve read about Pompeii and know a little about some of the victims that were found as well what has been hypothesized about some of the deceased. Throughout the novel I would find a character who reminded me of stories I’ve heard about Pompeii and then I went through the whole book, anxious to see if the fate matched what I thought would happen.

I never expected to get so much out of this novel because everyone already knows how it will end. There’s a countdown throughout the entirety of the book. But there’s a twist to that in itself because you’re hurrying through the book to read about the volcano and then you’re forced to slow down and take in the total destruction and chaos. I think it was wonderfully down and well-written; I’m going to read more by this author as soon as possible.

5/5 stars


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