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The Confessions of Young Nero

Cover of The Confessions of Young Nero

The Confessions of Young Nero

The New York Times bestselling and legendary author of Helen of Troy and Elizabeth I now turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.
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.

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy's ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.
From the Hardcover edition.
The New York Times bestselling and legendary author of Helen of Troy and Elizabeth I now turns her gaze on Emperor Nero, one of the most notorious and misunderstood figures in history.
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.

With impeccable research and captivating prose, The Confessions of Young Nero is the story of a boy's ruthless ascension to the throne. Detailing his journey from innocent youth to infamous ruler, it is an epic tale of the lengths to which man will go in the ultimate quest for power and survival.
From the Hardcover edition.
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  • From the book ***This excerpt is from an advance uncorrected copy proof***

    Copyright © 2017 Margaret George

    Chapter I

    Locusta

    This is not the first time I have been imprisoned. So I am hopeful that this is a sham and that the new emperor, Galba, will soon need my unique services and quietly send for me and once again I shall be treading the palace halls. I feel at home there, and why shouldn't I? I have provided my timely services for those in power for many years.

    By trade I am a poisoner. There, why not say it? And not any old poisoner, but the acknowledged expert and leader in my profession. So many others want to be another Locusta, another me. So I founded an academy to pass on my knowledge and train the next generation, for Rome will always be in need of poisoners. I should lament that, should say what a pity that Rome must descend to that, but that would be hypocritical of me. Besides, I am not convinced that poison is not the best way to die. Think of all the other ways a person may die at the hands of Rome: being torn by beasts in the arena, being strangled in the Tullianum prison, and most insipid of all, being ordered to open your veins and bleed yourself to death, like a sacrificial animal. Bah. Give me a good poison anytime. Did not Cleopatra embrace the asp and its poison, leaving her beautiful and stretched out upon her couch?

    I first met the late emperor Nero when he was still a child, still Lucius Domitius Ahenobarbus, the name he was born with. I saw him at the low point in his life, when he was an abandoned child at the mercy of his uncle Caligula. (Now, that was someone who gave me a lively string of business!) His father was dead, his mother Agrippina had been banished when he was not even three years old, and his uncle liked to toy with him.

    I remember he was a likable child—well, he remained likable all his life; it was a gift—but timorous. Many things frightened him, especially loud noises and being sent for unexpectedly. Caligula had a habit of that—sending for people in the middle of the night. He once forced me to watch a nocturnal theatrical performance in the palace, featuring himself as Jupiter. Sometimes it was harmless, like the playacting; other times it ended with the death of the helpless person he had sent for. So, Nero—let us call him that to avoid confusion, just as I call Caligula Caligula rather than Gaius Caesar Germanicus—was precocious in recognizing the danger of the serpent in his uncle.

    Ah, such memories! Here in my cell I find myself returning to them, helping the hours to pass, until that moment when Galba sends for me with a task. I know he will!


    Chapter II

    Nero

    The moon was round and full. It shone on the flat surface of the lake, which was also round, making it appear that the moon itself had expanded and enlarged itself there. It rose golden from the encircling hills but soon was a bright white ball high above.

    It illuminated the wide deck of the ship. I was to sit beside my uncle and listen to him intoning praise to the goddess Diana, whose sanctuary was on the shore of the lake and to whom the lake itself was sacred.

    I remember the flame of the torches that threw a flickering red light on the faces around me, in contrast to the clear bluish-white moonlight bathing the wider scene. My uncle's face looked not like a human's but like a demon's, with a burning hue.

    These are all impressions, memories that swirl without being attached to anything. The reflection on the water—the torches—the thin, reedy voice of my uncle—the nervous laughter around...

Reviews-
  • Kirkus

    January 1, 2017
    The first in a pair of novels devoted to Roman Emperor Nero--the one blamed for fiddling while Rome burned--offers a new take on an age-old reputation.Insane, cruel, a sex fiend? That's not the Nero who narrates George's (Elizabeth I, 2011, etc.) latest historical epic. This lonely child, attracted to music, poetry, and sports and propelled to the forefront of history when his scruple-free mother, Agrippina, returns from exile, scarcely has clean hands, but neither is he mad, bad, and dangerous to know. It's Agrippina who sets her son on the path to power, employing Locusta, a poisoner, to help clear the way to the imperial throne. Having disposed of her husband, Agrippina positions herself to marry her uncle, Emperor Claudius. Then, once Nero has reached age 16, old enough to take power, it's Claudius' turn for the poisoned platter. Indeed, it's the women around Nero who seem to introduce much of the danger, passion, and excitement to this version of events. Admittedly, Nero uses Locusta too, to rid himself of a threat, and is eventually driven to arrange the murder of overbearing Agrippina, yet he's muted rather than megalomaniacal and haunted by the matricide. Other notable female figures include Octavia, his first wife, ignored, then divorced; Acte, the freed slave Nero wants to marry but who spurns him; Boudicca, the British queen who leads an uprising that nearly defeats the Roman army; and Poppaea, already married to a friend of Nero's but who will become the emperor's wife in due course. On its whistle-stop tour through the years, George's revisionist novel makes hefty use of its research, yet the emperor himself, shorn of his bad-boy reputation, emerges as oddly pallid, neither charismatic nor catastrophic. By reconfiguring one of history's most notorious villains as "a man of integrity, ingenuity, and generosity," this workmanlike saga redeems Nero while simultaneously rendering him rather less fascinating.

    COPYRIGHT(2017) Kirkus Reviews, ALL RIGHTS RESERVED.

  • Library Journal

    November 15, 2016

    Best-selling historical novelist George moves from British kings and queens (Elizabeth I; The Autobiography of Henry VIII) to ancient Rome in this fictionalized biography of one of its most notorious emperors. Adopted by the emperor Claudius and related to Marc Antony, Augustus, and Caligula, Nero was crowned emperor at the age of 16. Nero is remembered, most infamously, for the excesses and ruthlessness of his reign. In her novel, George details a more balanced view of his life: a love of music and poetry, romantic attachments, grief over the loss of a child, and his sense of duty. However, drama still rules in the ancient world. The psychological warfare of elite Roman families, constant political scheming, and assassination plots move the story line rapidly forward from the first chapter in which Caligula attempts to drown young Nero to the final one in which Nero and his beloved second wife watch Rome burn. Highly acclaimed for the detail and personality she gives to epic subjects, George's heavily researched novel flows dynamically among multiple points of view. VERDICT Historical fiction devotees and anyone who enjoys the entertainment of a grandly dysfunctional family will quickly devour this first volume of a duology and eagerly await its sequel.--Catherine Lantz, Univ. of Illinois at Chicago Lib.

    Copyright 2016 Library Journal, LLC Used with permission.

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