|Overall: 2.4 ||Rubies of the Viper by Martha Marks |
When her brother is murdered in first-century Rome, Theodosia Varro inherits the family estate, going from poverty and isolation to great wealth and a prestigious position in society. Unfortunately, she lives in a time and a place that deny women of her class the very things she most desires: personal freedom and self-determination. Only by identifying her brother's killer can she feel safe, yet her efforts take her in quite the opposite direction. After her own actions and the scheming of others lead to catastrophe, Theodosia struggles to survive and recover what matters most in her life.
|Genre: Historical Fiction,|
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In a Rome shortly set to fall under the infamous Nero's rule, Theodosia Varro has come into an fortuitous inheritance. All is not as it seems, however, as her good luck came at the cost of her half-brother's murder. Caught up in social intrigue and the struggles of a wealthy woman without any real male support, she soon learns the true value of life and freedom.
The story starts out with an interesting, if improbable, premise: a man is murdered, and somehow his estranged half-sister is able to take control of one of the wealthiest estates in the Roman Empire. The reader is then introduced to several other players, some more palatable than others. Motivations and personal relationships abound. As a "whodunnit," this could have been a highly entertaining, mind-bending set-up. Unfortunately, however, characters are painted in either one shade (e.g. Dionysian hedonist) or all the colors of the visible spectrum, creating people who cannot seem to decide on their own personalities, let alone reveal them to readers. The most glaring example of the latter is Theodosia herself, whose fickle and fleeting thought patterns make it difficult to discern any salient traits beyond her frustrating obstinacy.
With that said, Alexander proves to be a more interesting protagonist, and the separate storyline he is given remains the most natural part of the entire book. His experience is easily accessible on an emotional level, while the events themselves unfold as all scenes in a story should: smoothly. This interlude, however brief, shows that the author is a capable writer. Perhaps if the third of the novel devoted to Theodosia's romantic quandaries were removed in favor of more of this sort of plot development, the book would feel more like a cohesive, fascinating whole. As it stands, the strongest feature of this work is the writing itself.
The author's descriptions of surroundings and sumptuous splendor render her imagined environs rather easy to visualize. Her writing style is distinct: slightly stilted, but in a consistent manner to which one quickly adapts. Aside from a few anachronistic word choices, and a surfeit of ellipses, the language of the novel easily fades into the background in favor of the scenes it is meant to communicate. Any struggles that I had to refrain from skimming were due to the storyline itself, rather than its mode of conveyance.
For those who prefer stories that are more episodic in nature, Rubies of the Viper may very well be a good fit. Others, like myself, may find that it tastes more like someone else's cup of tea.
(Review copy provided by the author)