Tuesday, November 4, 2014

A Day of Fire by Various

Title: A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii
Author: Vicky Alvear Shecter, Sophie Perinot, Ben Kane, Kate Quinn, E. Knight, and Stephanie Dray

Genre: Fiction (Historical / Ancient / 1st Century AD / Italy / Natural Disaster / Collaborative Novel / Interconnected Stories)
Publisher/Publication Date: Knight Media, LLC (11/4/2014)
Source: The authors.

Rating: Loved.
Did I finish?: I did.
One-sentence summary: The story of seven citizens of Pompeii on the day of the fateful Mount Vesuvius eruption.
Reading Challenges: E-book, Historical Fiction

Do I like the cover?: Eh -- I'm not wild about it, but it gets across what's important: volcano, and the kickass authors.

First line: I discreetly tightened my loincloth as I approached Pompeii's Sarno Gate.

Buy, Borrow, or Avoid?: Borrow or buy!

Why did I get this book?: I'm a fan of all the authors in this collection -- I couldn't resist!

Review: I love the idea of collaborative novels but find that unless it's a duo, anything more is usually a bit of a disaster (Naked Came the Manatee or Hotel Angeline). But I wasn't going to pass up this hist fic, which features six standout historical novelists all writing about Pompeii's deadly explosion -- and to my delight and great relief, this was a knockout.

Set on, or a few days before, the day of the destructive Mount Vesuvius eruption -- the novel follows seven interconnected characters. Each author tackles one character and one small portion of the overall story arc, although the same characters are threaded through the entire narrative.  The disaster is pieced out in a series of snapshots but there isn't a disconnected, vignette-y feel.  Instead, the shifting lens provides a extra layer of tension as I raced through the story to see if my favorite characters were going to appear again, and if I would learn more about their fate.

The entire novel reads like one cohesive piece in part because the authors intentionally worked that way, constantly consulting with each other about characters and plot points.  (I learned this and other fun details in my interview with them; it'll be posted tomorrow.)  That extra effort is felt quite clearly in the distinct narrative arc that holds the volume together, and the seemingly disparate threads are tied up as neatly as can be in a disaster.  (And kudos to the authors for resisting wholly pat endings!) We don't learn how everyone ultimately ends up, and it leaves a deliciously bittersweet feeling at the end.

I loved every story in this volume but I'll admit to sobbing like a crazy thing while reading E. Knight's 'The Mother'. Being a pregnant lady six days from her due date is likely why it affected me so greatly, but the stories have a wonderful balance of action, emotion, and at moments, grim humor.  As the book continues, the characters are deeper and deeper in the throes of the eruption, and the stories race even while focusing on some serious emotional development -- plot isn't thrown over for character, nor vice versa.

There's eight pages of Historical Notes to go with this, for the volume and each story, which provides the kind of geeky historical detail and narrative nuts and bolts I love.

Highly recommended for historical fiction fans, especially those who love disaster flicks, ancient settings, and/or armchair escapes that leave you gasping for air.  Those who are fans of the authors in this volume will not be disappointed and those who are new to these authors will be excited to have more of their works to dig into.  A wonderfully creative endeavor.  I'd love to see this group do something like this again!


  1. I love that first line!

    What an interesting way to write a book! I can't wait for the interview tomorrow!

    1. It worked really well, to my surprise -- but given the work the authors put into it, I shouldn't have been -- there was so much intentionality in the story arc, and it shows!

  2. Wow this looks really interesting. I've never read these authors but I'm fascinated by Pompeii and this looks like a really interesting way to tell a story. Looks great!

  3. It was so good -- and you'd like it because it has sex workers and lots of tawdriness!

  4. Such an intriguing historical setting - imagine it would absolutely lend itself to some incredible stories! Sounds quite moving, as well as fascinating.