Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii by Vicky Alvear Shecter

18692432Title: Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii

AuthorVicky Alvear Shecter

Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books

Publication Date: May 27, 2014

Pages: 336

Genre: Young Adult Historical

Book Summary (from Goodreads)

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?


There’s something really intriguing about Pompeii. Maybe its the tragedy that draws us in, or the way that an instant of time was captured in such an eerie way under all that ash. Either way, when I saw this book on Netgalley, I was intrigued. I enjoy reading historical fiction set in unusual places, and the hint of romance didn’t hurt either.

At first, I was unsure about the book. I like the heroine, Lucia, and you can sympathize with her distaste for her arranged marriage. While it may have been common, I would think that many young girls reacted in the same way. In that time, they didn’t have to like it, but they didn’t have much choice either. I will admit that at times, Lucia’s “education” and reading habits are a bit reminiscent of the “bluestocking” that seems to pop up all over regency romances. That being said, it wasn’t overdone. I liked the hints that she throws out about what is going to happen. She doesn’t understand it, but she is noticing things that others are not. She doesn’t place huge importance on it all the time, but in a place that frequently has earthquakes (something mentioned often in the story – almost too much) I would imagine she wouldn’t be as panicked as we would. The only thing I disliked about it is that she talks about it a lot in the beginning, but then her concern with the science becomes an afterthought and is mostly forgotten. The actual eruption lacks some of the excitement and fear I had been expecting. It just sort of…happens. Which, maybe, is what the author was going for. After all, thats kind of how it would have been for Pompeii. One day it was a mountain, the next it was spouting fire.

Her relationship with Tag is not quite insta-love, and I enjoyed it. At first I wasn’t sure that I would be invested in their love story, but I found myself caring more as the story moved along. It was hard to see Tag as a slave in places. Until he brings it up, you forget that. Maybe it lacked the desperation I would have (in my mind) associated with forbidden love between a slave and his master’s daughter. There are several twists in the story that I also enjoyed. The love “triangle” you can see coming a mile away, (I’m pretty sure Tag and Lucia are the only ones who didn’t see it) but the twist with Lucia’s mother is one I hadn’t seen coming at all, and which I enjoyed. It added tension, and helped to add back story to the father’s character, who remains rather one dimensional for a large portion of the book, in comparison to the other characters.

The story was a great foray into historical fiction, and I really enjoyed that the author didn’t use the explosion of Pompeii as her only conflict. There was a lot of tension from a lot of areas, making the story all the more real. Just as in real life, the volcano causes chaos in the middle of lives already in chaos. The ending of the book is surprising. Like the kind that you flip back and have to reread because you’re thinking, “no, that didn’t just happen…” I don’t want to give the ending away, but I didn’t expect it. It was tragedy and hope rolled into one.

If you enjoy historical fiction and history involving ancient Rome and Pompeii, this is definitely one to check out. 


Where to Find the Book



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Book was provided by publisher via Netgalley in exchange for an honest review.