Monday, November 5, 2018

G1062 Book Review of The Splendor before the dark by Margaret George

Name of Book: The Splendor Before the Dark

Author: Margaret George

ISBN: 978-0-399-58461-9

Publisher: Berkley

Part of a Series: The Confessions of Young Nero is the prequel

Type of book: 64-68 ME, The great Roman fire, politics, marriage, survival, artist, glory, building, Emperor Nero, royalty, losing control,

Year it was published: 2018


Ascending to the throne was only the beginning... Now Margaret George, the author of The Confessions of Young Nero, weaves a web of politics and passion, as ancient Rome's most infamous emperor cements his place in history.

With the beautiful and cunning Poppaea at his side, Nero Augustus commands the Roman empire, ushering in an unprecedented era of artistic and cultural splendor. Although he has yet to produce an heir, his power is unquestioned.

But in the tenth year of his reign, a terrifying prophecy comes to pass and a fire engulfs Rome, reducing entire swaths of the city to rubble. Rumors of Nero's complicity in the blaze start to sow unrest among the populace--and the politicians...

For better or worse, Nero knows that his fate is now tied to Rome's--and he vows to rebuild it as a city that will stun the world. But there are those who find his rampant quest for glory dangerous. Throughout the empire, false friends and spies conspire against him, not understanding what drives him to undertake the impossible.

Nero will either survive and be the first in his family to escape the web of betrayals that is the Roman court, or be ensnared and remembered as the last radiance of the greatest dynasty the world had ever known.


There are a lot of characters, but the main ones would be Nero, his beautiful wife Poppaea, as well as Acte and Poppaea's male servant that looks way too much like her. Nero gained a lot of complexity as well as notoriety in the last half of the tale; it seems that the best he is remembered for are the last four years rather than years that come before them. In this book he seems to be far more ruthless and far more desperate to make a mark on the world rather, and he no longer seems to be like his old self from THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO. The events that he had to struggle and survive through are far more lethal than that of his mother, so I cannot blame him for changing and trying to hold on to his old self of curiosity and artist. Each character is seen from Nero's point of view and just like Nero, we are often surprised by the betrayals and being blindsided by them. Poppaea and others are also drawn well, although we see them from Nero's point of view. Poppaea is a clever and resourceful woman who seems to have made quite an impression on Nero's heart and its obvious that they loved one another greatly. Acte is also resourceful and clever and a bit naive.


Don't trust what one reads


The story is in first person narrative, primarily from Nero's point of view, although from time to time Acte and Locusta also make an appearance, much more so than in the first book. I honestly wish I could have read this book right after her first one, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO, so that way I can witness the changes that Nero undergoes through as the life he knows has slipped away from his grasp. Unlike the first book which covers his childhood to the year prior to the fire. THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK, (a very apt title if one is to mask me,) only covers four years, but they are quite a roller-coaster ride and not once will the reader be bored, although I assume that many might find Nero's actions frustrating, especially the lack of political acumen in a lot of cases.

Author Information:
(From the book)

Margaret George, who lives in Madison Wisconsin, comes from a Southern basckground and has traveled extensively. After reading numerous novels that viewed Henry VIII through the eyes of his enemies and victims, she became determined to let Henry speak for himself, and it took fifteen years, about three hundred books of background reading, three visits to England to see every extant building associated with Henry, and five handwritten drafts for her to answer the question: what was Henry really like?

She is also the author of two other highly acclaimed novels, Mary Queen of Soctland and the Isle and The Memoirs of Cleopatra.


It's rare to discover a book where my heart seems to break on every page, but it seems that THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK does a good job. I have previously taken Roman Empire class and we did study times from Julius Caesar up to 6th century and time of Justinian and his infamous wife Theodora. All I recall was that Nero was the more salacious and bad emperor, at least as Suetonius paints him. A lesson I have learned as a historian is to question the source and the how and whys. Just like with its predecessor, THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO, Margaret George dared to go back to the last four years of Nero's life and reign and she dared to sketch out a heartbreaking tale of a man who wanted to be good but is only remembered for the bad. She de-mythologizes the man behind the costume and knowing what was to come for Nero makes it a heart breaking read. Nero isn't painted as a complete saint but he is not completely a bad guy. without conscience. In my opinion, this book is better than the first one, and in a rare instance, can be read as a stand-alone tale. And yes, sometime next year, MEMOIRS OF CLEOPATRA as well as the tale of Mary Queen of Scots, will definitely be on my to-read list.

This was given to me for a review

5 out of 5
(0: Stay away unless a masochist 1: Good for insomnia 2: Horrible but readable; 3: Readable and quickly forgettable, 4: Good, enjoyable 5: Buy it, keep it and never let it go.)

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