Song for nero Review and Opinion




A Song For Nero
Thomas Holt
Little, Brown hardcover £16.99

review by Duncan Lawie

A Song For Nero is an assault with a garrulous instrument. The narrator, Galen, starts talking at a hundred miles an hour and simply doesn't let up for 470 pages. Within a few paragraphs the reader is swept away by this character's immediacy and likeability and it is only 100 pages later the realisation dawns that not very much has happened. It is also at about this point that a plot begins to emerge, but the book is primarily a picaresque adventure. In science fictional terms, it would be called a planetary romance, as Galen and his colleague - Lucius Domitius, formerly Nero Caesar - rush about the Roman Empire. In historical terms, the book uses The Odyssey as a conscious comparison, the narrator comments on the similarities between his own adventures and those of Ulysses and expands upon the differences. Rather than a classical hero, Galen portrays himself as a small time confidence trickster who fell into helping Nero escape his apparent suicide. They have been together for ten years since, on the run from their own frauds and the fear that someone may recognise who they really are.
   This is quite a funny book while managing to be convincing in its serious moments too. The means by which Nero does not die as history relates are cleverly put, effectively shaping the whole story. Subsequent events remain within the bounds of historical possibility. Galen is an unforgettable character, perfectly delineated through his own words and deeds and his reactions to those around him. He is so self-centred, though, that Nero is never quite the focus. The story is wonderfully well written. Even the most minor characters are well rounded and believable. It is told in a modern vernacular, which is totally at ease with the idea that Rome is the centre of the world and that ancient history is Auld Greece and the times of the Punic wars. The mindset of the era is drawn out without ever implying anything other than an ancient audience. I suspect that a reader familiar with I, Claudius and The Odyssey may pick up a few extra jokes but Holt does a good job of communicating the content of Virgil, Seneca, Homer and the rest. In fact, there is enough in this book to draw the reader to further research of the period.
   Considering this is essentially a shaggy dog story, it carries its length well, though the nature of the book changes towards the end. In fact, the narrator goes on at length about the point at which a story should wrap up neatly when the book still has 50 pages to go. Of course, the reckoning is that this is real life and not just a legend from the ancients. The twist in the tale is vicious and leaves a rather bitter taste in the mouth, perhaps the story arc is more natural in a Roman context. Even so, A Song For Nero is entertaining and informative, a memorable book worth savouring.

Related item:
tZ Little People by Tom Holt - book review


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Song for nero Review and Opinion

Song for nero Review and Opinion

A Song For NeroThomas HoltLittle, Brown hardcover £16.99review by Duncan LawieA Song For Nero is an assault with a garrulous instrument. The narrator, Galen,





Song for nero Review and Opinion
Song for nero Review and Opinion

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