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Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii

Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii is a YA historical fiction novel by Vicky Alvear Shecter.

Lucia, the daughter of a man who runs a gladiator school, is being married to a man who could be her grandfather – and whose reputation is not favorable. He’ll supply her father’s school with much needed funds by receiving her hand – so she’s expected to follow the command to marry him.

Tag, recently returned from medical training, is a slave in Lucia’s household and holds secrets that have kept him alive – barely. He is not pleased to be back under the roof of such a hateful man but is determined to become a gladiator so he can try to win his freedom.

As Lucia struggles with the horror and fear of marrying someone grotesque to her, she focuses on the strange natural happenings in her lifetime home of Pompeii. The almost non-stop, gentle shaking of the land, the abnormally hot weather… it peaks her scientifically-inclined mind and chills her – though she doesn’t know why.

When she realizes Tag is back – a slave boy that as a child was her playmate – the two are confronted with an attraction that is both dangerous and forbidden.

As Pompeii’s future hangs in a precarious place, Lucia and Tag face lies that may either continue to keep them both enslaved in their own way – or provide a way to freedom…

I was very impressed with Shecter’s Cleopatra’s Moon – which told the story, from a fictional novelization, of course – of Cleopatra’s daughter, Cleopatra Selene. It was harrowing, enthralling and lovely.

I liked Curses and Smoke – but whereas Cleopatra’s Moon was based off a real person, Curses and Smoke is centered on only a true event of history. All the people in Curses and Smoke are fictional.

That is absolutely fine of course, yet I just didn’t feel the pure rawness of Shecter’s prior book, except for a few moments here and there. It came across to me as more unrealistic.

Sadly, I just was not enamored with these characters – though I didn’t mind them. I lacked the attachment that I needed to care enough about the plot, is the problem.

Curses and Smoke actually has a lot in common with the movie Titanic – as odd as that sounds. Now, I love Titanic – but this Pompeii version, heavy with similarities, just didn’t do it for me.

The end was very, very sad – and I am truly fascinated by the historical subject of the complete decimation of Pompeii – but the fictional drama of Curses and Smoke didn’t grip me like I’d wish it had.

Maybe it will for you!!!

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