Book review: The Confessions of Young Nero (Nero #1), by Margaret George

Book cover from Goodreads

There are no happy lives, only happy moments.

 

Built on the backs of those who fell before it, Julius Caesar’s imperial dynasty is only as strong as the next person who seeks to control it. In the Roman Empire no one is safe from the sting of betrayal: man, woman—or child.

As a boy, Nero’s royal heritage becomes a threat to his very life, first when the mad emperor Caligula tries to drown him, then when his great aunt attempts to secure her own son’s inheritance. Faced with shocking acts of treachery, young Nero is dealt a harsh lesson: it is better to be cruel than dead.

While Nero idealizes the artistic and athletic principles of Greece, his very survival rests on his ability to navigate the sea of vipers that is Rome. The most lethal of all is his own mother, a cold-blooded woman whose singular goal is to control the empire. With cunning and poison, the obstacles fall one by one. But as Agrippina’s machinations earn her son a title he is both tempted and terrified to assume, Nero’s determination to escape her thrall will shape him into the man he was fated to become—an Emperor who became legendary. Taken from Goodreads.

 

Let’s get real here, this was a historical fiction about one of the most talked about Roman Emperor, Nero. Bloody hell, a software was even named after him because the software is used to burn data onto a cd, and Nero allegedly was sitting and playing a musical instrument as Rome was burning. Why did I say allegedly, because apparently there have been some findings that may have contested that notion, there was even an article on National Geographic History about it. So, the fact that the author wrote this book in a way to redeem Nero triggers my curiosity. So I had high hopes for this book.

And it wasn’t disappointing, at all. And I’m not even being sarcastic about it. It was such an amazing thing to me that the author manage to write and speak in the voice of Nero and to grew up together with him. The first part of the book, we are introduced to young Nero (incredibly young Nero, like he was 3 or 4 or something), and you can read in the way Nero spoke that he did sound like a youngster, and as he grew up well into his teens and adulthood, so does the tone of his storytelling changed. And speaking of that, here’s my first problem with the book; there were moments when Nero was describing himself what with him being taller than most people in his households, making me think he is well into his teens, and then, BAM, he mentioned he just turned 10? What? It is confusing af.

And then it got even more confusing because in the middle of reading about teenage Nero and a thought struck me, “wait, did my brain just think that Nero is hot?” Because it’s obvious the author managed to humanise him in a way that previous writings about Nero would never have done. She made Nero out to be this very sensitive and caring boy, who’s into sports and arts and poetry and performing; simply put, Nero in this book is not like your everyday Emperor before him. He’s sporty but he also has this sweet side of him who is into arts and everything Greek.

But then I made a rookie mistake of googling Nero’s bust (because that is the only way I could get an idea what he might have looked like in real life), and oh boy was that a huge mistake on my part or what? He is ugly! Ugly I tell you! He’s facial hair? Horrendous! Afterwards I just couldn’t enjoy Nero like I had enjoyed him the first time around. Hmm, maybe that’s how I ended up being pessimistic towards his character?

And now, this is where it gets boring for yours truly. I get that the author wanted to redeem Nero as an Emperor through this book, and you’re getting the gist of it even from the very beginning, and I genuinely think the author did a fine job in humanising Nero, but after several pages of Nero seems too normal and too down to earth to be an Emperor, I kinda feel like the author is forcing me to swallow these supposedly good sides of Nero. Lady, you are trying too hard to make me like Nero. Stop it, okay? Reign it down a bit.

Just like how you should reign down on your overly detailed descriptions of things that have no use in the story? I do not need to know Nero and Poppaea’s discussion about what colour they should paint their villa. Who gives a damn? Paint whatever colour you want, and it’s not like these colours had any significance to the story or anything. Spoiler alert: it has no relevance whatsoever.

And get this, as I am drowning in the stream of words that I just skim through, I kept on thinking where is this story going to go, because I feel like we’ve covered all the basis that we need to cover. Nero killed Britannicus, and then kill her Mother, and then the first wife is dead, and then he marry Poppaea. What is there left to be told? Oh right! The burning of Rome. The epitome of what is there to talk about when you talk about Emperor Nero. But, hot damn, when will that happened? Surely sometime about now?

Nope! Not a fat chance in hell. After the death of Nero’s daughter (who am I kidding? Actually after Agrippina was dead was when it all started downhill for me), the story took a dark turn. It went absolutely slow. Slow. Slow, I freaking tell you. You can just tell the author was stalling so as to give enough room for the big bang, the burning of Rome, and end the first book to give a segue to the second book that I will not be reading because if the first book was any indication, I’ll probably die out of boredom.

Honestly, I’m just glad I manage to finish this book. There were moments when I thought maybe I should just gave up on this book. It was just boring. Okay, maybe calling it boring is too harsh, because there are moments where this book was interesting, and it got me hook line and sinker reading it. But after 100 or so pages of “where-is-this-going?”, enough is enough and so I rest my case by saying I am bored by this book, but whether or not this book was boring is up for a debate, because I see that there are a lot of good reviews pertaining this book.

Christian bale says it all for me. Maybe I’ll still recommend it for those who are interested in Rome’s historical fiction, But then again, I don’t know, because I really didn’t quite enjoy the book at the end of the day and I don’t want to be recommending something that I didn’t quite like.

Rating: ⭐⭐☆☆☆

Title: The Confessions of Young Nero (Nero #1)

Author: Margaret George

Genre: Fiction, Historical Fiction

Goodreads link

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