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The Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero

Review

The Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero

THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK is the sequel to Margaret George’s THE CONFESSIONS OF A YOUNG NERO, in which we came to know a young Nero who was more concerned with art and the beauty of the world around him than becoming emperor. Emperor is exactly what he becomes, though, and in this follow-up, we get to experience his last years --- the tumultuous years that shape the world’s image of him forever.

Nero, now firmly ensconced as emperor, is thoroughly besotted with his wife Poppaea, but they have yet to produce a much-desired heir. While that concerns him, he is more focused on satisfying the artist within. He longs to be part of the artistic world renowned for his abilities and creativity rather than as the ruler of the Roman Empire. He revels in his art, looking for every opportunity to share his creations and put all political concerns aside.

"George makes Nero real, likable, empathetic and worth your time as a character. If you’re looking for a new series in which to get lost, this is one you will want to explore."

When Rome burns, Nero runs into the flames, worried about not only his empire but Rome’s citizens as well. When it comes time to rebuild, he spares no expense, willing to almost bankrupt Rome’s coffers to bring the city back from the ashes. When rumors spread that Nero himself set the fire, he pushes even harder to continue rebuilding and prove that Rome will rise again and remain a beacon for the world.

What Nero finds is that the love he feels for Rome’s citizens is not returned, especially by the Senate and would-be politicians. A network of unrest forms in Rome, and all roads lead to Nero. To escape, he goes further into his art, vowing to take part in the Greek games to share his artistic passion on the larger world stage and show everyone that Rome is still a grand empire. While Nero is singing and racing chariots in Greece, a coup is being planned in Rome to bring an end to his reign and his life.

Margaret George brings Nero to life right down to the drape and the particular shade of purple for his royal trappings. It’s so easy to drown in the details, but it never happens. The details become part of the narrative that is Nero, the excess that characterized his reign and was inherent in the Roman Empire. He is naive and so caught up in himself that he is convinced the world loves him and his art, and even when the uprising comes knocking on his door, he still doesn’t believe it. Nero is a fascinating character, and George treats him fairly, even though history doesn’t usually do the same. George wants us to know Nero, and she creates a much more sympathetic view that draws you in, making you empathize with a young man yielding to his destiny but unwilling to concede his love of art --- the truth of who he is.

These books are a fascinating look into the life of a much-maligned figure. George makes Nero real, likable, empathetic and worth your time as a character. If you’re looking for a new series in which to get lost, this is one you will want to explore.

Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on November 16, 2018

The Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero
by Margaret George

  • Publication Date: November 6, 2018
  • Genres: Fiction, Historical Fiction
  • Hardcover: 592 pages
  • Publisher: Berkley
  • ISBN-10: 0399584617
  • ISBN-13: 9780399584619