Saturday, May 28, 2011

My Review of Pompeii: City on Fire

Here's a description of the book from the author's website:

"A city on the eve of destruction
A politician escaping his destiny
And a Jewish slave girl trained to die

None of them will survive unscathed.

Pleasure-seeking Romans find the seaside town of Pompeii the perfect getaway, and when the rich patrician Cato escapes Rome, intent on a life of leisure, he is unprepared for the hostility he encounters.

For Ariella, disguised as a young boy and sold into a gladiator troupe, survival is her only ambition.

But evil creeps through the streets of Pompeii and neither Ariella’s secret nor Cato’s evasion are safe. Political corruption, religious persecution and family peril threaten to destroy them, even before the mountain spews its fire.

As Vesuvius churns with deadly intent, the two must bridge their differences to save the lives of those they love, before the fiery ash buries Pompeii, and leaves the city lost to the world."

My Rating: Spring/Summer

My Review:

Like Vesuvius, this book is powerful and should not be underestimated! The tension builds steadily, with short sections from the volcano's point of view that remind the reader that below the surface of political upheaval and emotional drama stirs a dangerous depth that will drastically shift priorities once it explodes upon the scene. When that explosion happens, everything changes.

Until then, different sorts of danger fill the pages--from an evil politician bent on continuing his unjust reign, to fears of inadequacy and failure, to intense gladiator fights. There's a lot to take in as a reader, and some of the events (both past and present) are heartbreaking and disturbing to read about. But through it all is an underlying message of hope and security through the Messiah even in the midst of all the evil and suffering of this life. The glimpses of community, acceptance, and love are very sweet indeed.

The love story between Cato and Ariella is also quite an interesting one! I can't help but compare Ariella (Ari) to the Disney character of Mulan. Escaping from a horrible life satisfying the lust of a perverse man, Ari disguises herself as a man and joins a group of gladiators. She is a fighter through and through, and her spirit and perseverance catch the eye of Cato, who is a prominent, albeit new, citizen of Pompeii with a heart for those under oppression. Their journey is a difficult but necessary one that ultimately demonstrates where real, lasting strength and stamina come from: the Lord.

And no section shows that truth more than the last part of the book, when Vesuvius finally fulfills her role. I admit to being rather fearful of volcanoes, especially since I saw the movie Dante's Peak when I was in middle school. Well, I made it through the conclusion of this book, and it is both gripping and moving! As I read it in the early morning hours, I ended up shedding a few tears.

Pompeii: City on Fire is not a light-hearted read, nor is it an easy one, but it is a powerful one that attests to God's control in all things and the beauty of faith amidst the darkest storm.

*With thanks to the author for providing me with an Advanced Reader Edition of the book in exchange for my honest opinion.*

Note: Since this was an Advanced Reader Edition, some changes might have been made to the final edition which would not be taken into consideration in this review.


Casey said...

Interesting...thanks Amber! For some reason I was sent this book and I have NO idea why. I have a copy, which I'll probably read someday soon. Glad to read your thoughts. :)

Anonymous said...

Hey Amber, we're doing this book for our next book club and we didn't get any hosts to volunteer. Would you be interested in hosting? The discussion is scheduled for July 2.

-Joy (having a hard time logging in w/Blogger)

Amber S. said...


You're welcome! That's cool that you were sent a copy of the book--what a nice surprise! :) Hope you enjoy it!


Amber S. said...


This book would definitely be a great selection for a book club, in my opinion. :) I might be able to host it if I wrote the post in advance, as I think I'll be on vacation at that time. The only thing is, I'm not sure how much I would be able to interact with readers on the day of the book club...

Would you like me to e-mail you and see if we can work it out?


P.S. I don't why Blogger is having so many issues lately! :( Sorry about that!

Vince said...

Hi Amber:

I enjoy reading books about Pompeii. If you have not been there, I hope you get to go soon. Are you going to take the year off between Junior and Senior and tour Europe? Many young people are doing it and it can be a great idea. You have to do this when you can!

You can actually climb up the volcano, with a mandatory guide, and look down into it! It is still smoking. And the city: it will be hard not to shed tears. It’s an important experience to have.

BTW: how could the heroine of this book pass herself off as a Gladiator? Even today’s bodybuilding women could not do that!


Amber S. said...


I imagine it must be very moving to visit Pompeii--I cried just reading about it!

My plan right now is just to continue on to my senior year next year and graduate next spring. Where I go from there...not sure. :) I'd love to visit Europe sometime!

As for this book, I guess you'll have to read it to find out. ;) But seriously, she doesn't keep her charade going on for super long, and she doesn't keep her secret from everyone. Supposedly the outfits they have to wear help hide her identity.

If I may say so, don't let your skepticism for that aspect of the book keep you from giving Higley's work a try! :)