Review: The Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero (Nero #2) by Margaret George

When I was a kid, I was fascinated by all things Rome. I watched every episode about Rome and the emperors on History channel and my favorites were always on the crazy ones.

The ancient world is a fascinating place. People are trying to form a civilized people and state while others are trying to conquer new territories and at the height of it’s power, Rome was the republic that everyone modeled their empires on.

One of the emperors that always seemed to capture my interest was Nero and like any memorable Roman emperor, he had his own share of crazy.  When this book came up for review, I was interested in it for this very reason.

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 (summary from Goodreads).

One of the things that most intrigued me about this novel was that it seemed to focus on Nero the man, rather than Nero the crazy man. I liked that it seemed to promise more of his life and contributions to the empire rather than just how brutal he could be.

This book is part of a series about Nero’s life. The first book focuses on his younger years, while this book focuses on his later years. This book could most certainly stand on its own. I didn’t read the first book and by no means did that diminish the enjoyment of this book.

I loved George’s angle with this book. Throughout history Nero is portrayed as this crazy man who murdered his mother and wives, and had multiple lovers (men and women and his mother) and then of course famously burned down Rome and blamed the Christians. But there have been other historians that claim maybe these accusations were complete truth and that’s the vein that George spins her tale.

I liked that she took a different approach to Nero than the role that history always casts him as. I thought it made for a compelling read and really made me think and ponder what history tells us and what might actually be misrepresented. This book is a work of fiction, but I think there is enough rooted in history to make it enjoyable for fans of nonfiction as well.

In this book I actually found that I was able to enjoy Nero as a character and I loved watching him come alive on the pages. He was very changed by the fire and I loved seeing him emerge as an artist. George did a marvelous job at humanizing an emperor that not many people liked. I loved that about this book. George did a fantastic job with the plot and keeping things moving. The first half and the last were very fast paced, the middle stalled a little but I don’t think that had anything to do with her writing abilities but rather what was happening during that time.

This is a gem of a book and I enjoyed reading it more than I expected. I was sad that I missed the first book, only because the story and writing were elegant and engaging. This is superior historical fiction and I think fans of not only the ancient world or Rome, but fans of any historical fiction will not want to miss this one.

As a final note, the cover. I actually didn’t care for the Berkley cover shown in this post. There is another by MacMillian that is purple with gold accents and I actually love that cover so much. The Berkley cover says more historical thriller to me rather than historical fiction. If I were buying the book in a store, I would gravitate toward the purple edition rather than the one with the fire on it. I thought the purple added a lot of visual interest and conveyed historical fiction and Rome better than the one with the fire.

All in all though, this was an easy 5 star review for me!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Splendor Before the Dark (Nero #2) by Margaret George

  • Kindle, 528 pages
    Published November 6th 2018 by Berkley Pub Group
    ISBN 0399584617 (ISBN13: 9780399584619)
  • Review copy provided by: Publisher/Author in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own
  • Recommendation: 5 out of 5
  • Genre: historical fiction, Rome
  • Memorable lines/quotes


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