A stand-alone historical fantasy set in the Roman Republic.
Publication year: 2007
Page count: 250
Gnaeus Cornelius Scipio Hispallus comes from a powerful and respected family (Scipio) and is a praetor peregrinus of Rome, yet he feels like he hasn’t accomplished much in his life, especially compared to his grandfather Africanus or his cousin who is the consul. He also has secrets which could ruin him. When a young architect Daedalus, his former slave, comes to him to ask for money, he doesn’t have it. But Daedalus threatens to expose Hispallus’ secrets if he doesn’t pay. Hispallus receives only a few days to get a great sum of money. When he hears that Domina Euryale is giving a similar sum of money to anyone who can answer her question, he tries to persuade her to give the money to him instead.
Domina Euryale is a mysterious and very rich foreign woman who has come to Rome to get an answer to her riddle: how can stone be brought to life. Euryale is always veiled, claiming infirmity or disfigurement. Every servant and slave in her household is either blind or has very poor eyesight.
Daedalus is a young man whose father, a slave, was part of Hispallus’ household and he is convinced that Hispallus is to blame for Daedalus’ father’s death. Daedalus had befriended Hispallus’ drunkard son and is looking for a way to avenge himself on Hispallus.
Sevisus is a young slave in Euryale’s household. He works hard and he’s very interested in books. His mistress’ old maidservant taught him how to read. He runs around Rome doing errands for his mistress, such as talking to an astrologer and an alchemist who are working to find an answer to Euryale.
As far as I can tell, this is an excellent portrayal of the Roman Republic, including festivals and the Roman mistrust of anyone or anything foreign. The characters are interesting and don’t have too modern mindsets. The plot doesn’t bring much surprises but it also avoids clichés.
I very much enjoyed this historical fantasy and I’m hoping that I can find Dalkey’s other books.