The Splendor Before the Dark

Pub Date:   |   Archive Date: 06 Dec 2018

Member Reviews

This is one of the best historical reads of 2018! Margaret George has proven that she is one of my favorite historical novelists! I have grown up hating Nero, and I thought that I would never sympathize with him. However, Ms. George proves that there is more to him than meets the eye. Nero is a complex figure. He wants to be a good emperor but he falls into the pit of temptations. Mrs. George’s Nero proves that he ranks with King Lear and Macbeth. I believe this novel is destined to be a modern classic, and I am eagerly anticipating more of Margaret George’s novels!
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Thank you to @Berkley and @NetGalley for providing me with a physical copy in exchange for my honest review.

I do not recall spending a lot of time learning about the Roman empire during my school days. If anyone asked me then the name of one emperor I would have looked lost and confused. UNTIL NOW! What I love the most about historical fiction is the ability to actually learn something. I now can name an emperor of the Roman empire and I actually know his story if I end up becoming engaged in a conversation about him.

Nero Augustus started his reign during tragic circumstances. He was the last emperor during the Julio-Claudia dynasty and became the heir and successor of his great-uncle Claudius. It goes down hill when history shows that he also killed his mother and decided to kill Christians during the Roman fire because of the Armageddon reference in the Bible. (Crazy, huh?)

THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK is the 2nd novel behind The Confessions of Young Nero written by the same author, Margaret George. I found this followup to be written beautifully. It begins with the fire and escalates from there. Nero tried his best to repair Rome. He showed courage when faced with betrayal and religious unrest. The reader sees a young man trying his best to be a leader during a time of tremendous pressure. 

The story is told from 3 perspectives: Nero, Acte (his former lover) and Locusta (a woman who is known for herbal medicine). The reader experiences what each of these characters experience and are forced to see the good and the bad in Nero because of these perspectives. 

I thought that THE SPLENDOR BEFORE THE DARK was brilliant. It’s a little long, but I enjoyed what Margaret George brought to the story and loved how she didn’t leave anything behind. She was transparent and kept the story flowing. I would recommend this book to anyone interested in all things Rome.
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I love Margaret George and I love every one of her books.  I was so happy she decided to finish the story of Nero.  Before reading her first book on Nero, I had absolutely no knowledge of him except for his name.  She not only was able to make me feel compassion for him, but also made it extremely entertaining.  Her way of writing historical fiction is completely unique and enjoyable.
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I received this book for free from Netgalley. This did not influence my review.

It’s closing in on two years since I read Margaret George’s superb historical novel of the formative years of Emperor Nero: The Confessions of Young Nero. Her follow-up book, The Splendor Before the Dark has been recently released. Details from the first book are fuzzy in my mind, but the characters come alive again in this novel which could be read as a stand-alone.

Nero has now been Emperor of Rome for ten years. Married to his great love, the renowned beauty Poppaea, Nero rules supreme, paying the barest of lip service to the Senate, employing a competent civil service of freedmen and spies to keep the empire running. He is a good administrator, but prefers spending his time with Rome’s literary elite and in training for racing his own chariot, pursuits considered beneath the dignity of his office.

The book opens on the eve of the great fire (the one where he gained his reputation for fiddling while Rome burned.) In fact, he had been out of the city (performing on his cithara) when he got word of the fire and raced back. In this novel, he throws himself into the firefighting efforts, risking his own safety, demonstrating a great deal of concern for the poor and common people. It was a little difficult overcoming a learned bias against Nero to buy into this heroic image but I pushed on through to see the aftermath of the fire.

Much of the city is destroyed, giving Nero an opportunity to rebuild Rome according to his own wishes. Some of his plans are good for the city and its inhabitants, like widening the streets and forbidding wooden overhangs that are fire hazards. But his main project, a huge new home for himself with fountains, parks, and a massive room with a revolving removable ceiling, was simply a monument to his own ego – as well as being a drain on the treasury.

Nero was popular with the people of Rome. He was generous with bread and circuses and, at times, opened parts of his palace for the people to view. But a broad swath of the senators and leaders saw him as a tyrant. There was considerable unrest in the aftermath of the fire with rumors sprouting that he had been responsible for it to clear the real estate he coveted. Disturbed by the rumors, Nero, who believed the fire had been accidental, started looking about for a scapegoat. He embraced the idea that it had been the Christians, coming to believe it himself, and began a large-scale persecution.

When a plot arose to assassinate him, something of a tradition in ancient Rome, particularly among Nero’s family, he was warned just on time. The plotters were executed or allowed to commit suicide and the confiscation of their property helped to refill the treasury so that Nero’s building binge could continue.

George is able to take the reader inside Nero’s head. He is a mass of contradictions: completely confident of his right to have whatever he wants, whenever he wants, certain in his decisions, and yet, wounded by criticism of others and given to moments of self-reflection. After which, he manages to conclude that he is right and others are wrong.

Nero’s reputation has been rehabilitated to some degree by recent scholars and George paints a balanced picture of a ruler with positive as well as negative traits. Rome did enjoy a period of peace under his reign, before the empire started unraveling at its seams. He did patronize the arts and inspired architectural and engineering feats in pursuit of his goals. And yet, it’s hard to embrace Nero as a great man when he is such a megalomaniac. He was nowhere near as great and beloved as he believed himself to be. I’m not sure if I’m meant to pity him when the inevitable downfall occurs, but I don’t. 

Margaret George’s historical fiction is well-researched and vividly detailed. These two novels of Nero are highly recommended.
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My Highly Caffeinated Thought: An epic read filled with drama, intense relationships, and all best of what Roman history has to give.

THE SPLENDOR BEFORE DARK is historical fiction at its finest. George expertly transports her readers in time while opening up a world of love, betrayal, and the need for power to her readers. 

There are so many things I love about this book as well as the series. However, the one which stands out the most is the writing. The eloquence, the flow, and the effortless depiction of an ancient civilization make this book so good. I loved the way I was able to experience life through Nero's and a few of the other characters' eyes. This made the story so much more real. 

I know this is a book set in ancient Rome, but there was an intensely modern feel to it. The way the characters interacted and spoke was intrinsically steeped in history, but the was that something which transcends into the present. 

Hands down...this is a book not to be missed. CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO was good, but this book is amazing.
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When I was a kid, I was fascinated by all things Rome. I watched every episode about Rome and the emperors on History channel and my favorites were always on the crazy ones.

The ancient world is a fascinating place. People are trying to form a civilized people and state while others are trying to conquer new territories and at the height of it’s power, Rome was the republic that everyone modeled their empires on.

One of the emperors that always seemed to capture my interest was Nero and like any memorable Roman emperor, he had his own share of crazy.  When this book came up for review, I was interested in it for this very reason.

With the beautiful and cunning Poppaea at his side, Nero Augustus commands the Roman empire, ushering in an unprecedented era of artistic and cultural splendor. Although he has yet to produce an heir, his power is unquestioned.

But in the tenth year of his reign, a terrifying prophecy comes to pass and a fire engulfs Rome, reducing entire swaths of the city to rubble. Rumors of Nero’s complicity in the blaze start to sow unrest among the populace–and the politicians.

For better or worse, Nero knows that his fate is now tied to Rome’s–and he vows to rebuild it as a city that will stun the world. But there are those who find his rampant quest for glory dangerous. Throughout the empire, false friends and spies conspire against him, not understanding what drives him to undertake the impossible.

Nero will either survive and be the first in his family to escape the web of betrayals that is the Roman court, or be ensnared and remembered as the last radiance of the greatest dynasty the world had ever known (summary from Goodreads).

One of the things that most intrigued me about this novel was that it seemed to focus on Nero the man, rather than Nero the crazy man. I liked that it seemed to promise more of his life and contributions to the empire rather than just how brutal he could be.

This book is part of a series about Nero’s life. The first book focuses on his younger years, while this book focuses on his later years. This book could most certainly stand on its own. I didn’t read the first book and by no means did that diminish the enjoyment of this book.

I loved George’s angle with this book. Throughout history Nero is portrayed as this crazy man who murdered his mother and wives, and had multiple lovers (men and women and his mother) and then of course famously burned down Rome and blamed the Christians. But there have been other historians that claim maybe these accusations were complete truth and that’s the vein that George spins her tale.

I liked that she took a different approach to Nero than the role that history always casts him as. I thought it made for a compelling read and really made me think and ponder what history tells us and what might actually be misrepresented. This book is a work of fiction, but I think there is enough rooted in history to make it enjoyable for fans of nonfiction as well.

In this book I actually found that I was able to enjoy Nero as a character and I loved watching him come alive on the pages. He was very changed by the fire and I loved seeing him emerge as an artist. George did a marvelous job at humanizing an emperor that not many people liked. I loved that about this book. George did a fantastic job with the plot and keeping things moving. The first half and the last were very fast paced, the middle stalled a little but I don’t think that had anything to do with her writing abilities but rather what was happening during that time.

This is a gem of a book and I enjoyed reading it more than I expected. I was sad that I missed the first book, only because the story and writing were elegant and engaging. This is superior historical fiction and I think fans of not only the ancient world or Rome, but fans of any historical fiction will not want to miss this one.

As a final note, the cover. I actually didn’t care for the Berkley cover shown in this post. There is another by MacMillian that is purple with gold accents and I actually love that cover so much. The Berkley cover says more historical thriller to me rather than historical fiction. If I were buying the book in a store, I would gravitate toward the purple edition rather than the one with the fire on it. I thought the purple added a lot of visual interest and conveyed historical fiction and Rome better than the one with the fire.

All in all though, this was an easy 5 star review for me!

Challenge/Book Summary:

Book: The Splendor Before the Dark (Nero #2) by Margaret George

Kindle, 528 pages
Published November 6th 2018 by Berkley Pub Group
ISBN 0399584617 (ISBN13: 9780399584619)
Review copy provided by: Publisher/Author in exchange for an honest review, all opinions are my own
Recommendation: 5 out of 5
Genre: historical fiction, Rome
Memorable lines/quotes
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Thanks to the publisher for the chance to read this book. I've loved Margaret George novels before, and now I need to go back and read the first book about Nero!
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Passion takes precedence over politics, at least initially, in Margaret George’s brilliant follow-up novel to The Confessions of Young Nero.  The story begins with the infamous fire that destroyed almost all of Rome, a fire Nero helps to put out.  He helps dig out victims and console those who lost everything.  However, the rumors then begin that Nero himself set the fires.  He does nothing until he realizes that unless he finds a scapegoat his reign will end.  And so the Christians become the easy targets because their teachings are used as evidence of their guilt.  
Nero after staging the massacre of the Christians for public viewing sets about rebuilding Rome.  He intends to have Rome display glory and stunning, exotic views that will be admired forever!  He attempts to wow his audience with his poetry, his athleticism in the chariot games, his artistic and architectural designs, and all of this (and more) are gorgeously depicted by the author.  The effect on the reader is spellbinding.  Not only is the history of Nero’s world explored but it also envelops the reader into the culture and beauty of the gods and former Roman and Greek emperors.
Then deceit and tragedy enter Nero’s world, beginning with an absolutely huge defection on the part of both Senators and Nero’s own military guard.  The plans for assassination are discovered and the plotters are condemned! But the moral and emotional devastation on Nero is piteous to follow.  His pure intentions to create a beautiful cultured world within Rome are totally misconstrued and that shatters him.  He will never trust again!
The loss of his wife lead him to abandon Rome for a year while he travels to Greece where he will participate in the Olympics of the time.  Finally, Nero’s demise follows the mysterious prophecy that began his adult life.
Words cannot possibly convey the depth of how much is covered in this stunningly beautiful and skilled novel.  Forget what you thought you knew about Nero and enjoy this comprehensive, complex journey into the world of one of the most notable Emperors in Roman history!  Well-written, engaging, well-researched and highly recommended historical fiction!
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I confess to knowing virtually nothing about Nero going into this novel – save a visual of him playing the fiddle while Rome burned. As usual, Margaret George brought me up to speed in a most entertaining way. Her historical fiction novel played out in the form of Nero’s autobiography with additional viewpoints from his first love, Acte, and Locusto, his poisons consultant. It’s a story of political plots and intrigue, living with rumors and innuendo, and never quite knowing who was worthy of Nero’s trust.

I’ve read Margaret Georges’s previous novels about Cleopatra and Helen of Troy so I was unsurprised by the 500+ pages it took to tell Nero’s story. I also knew it would be meticulously researched and presented in her usual engaging style. The Afterword is very interesting and I appreciated the family tree and maps included at the beginning of the book. I think fans of the author and historical fiction will enjoy and learn from this story. I certainly did.
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This stunning tale of the Emperor Nero concludes Margaret Georges Duology about the Emperors life and places us firmly in the realm of ancient Rome. Whether you are a fan of historical fiction or not you will be sucked into this epic tale. The writing pulls you in, the setting keeps you firmly in the books grasp and the characters will compel you to keep reading. They are both heroic and at the same time flawed in the way that all humans are, keeping the authenticity of the story intact. The story begins with the Great Fire of Rome and we find ourselves thrust right into the action. Nero himself was blamed for the fire and that had long reaching consequences for his reign. What really brought this book to life is George’s portrayal of Nero. She really brings him to life in a way that you can really see the man that he might have been. I loved this book and I definitely recommend it. Though I would suggest reading the first book in the duology before this one.
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This book was such a great read! The Splendor Before the Dark is the second book in a series but it can also be read by itself. This centers around the last few years of Roman Emperor Nero's life. The book starts off with a bang as Rome is engulfed by a great fire. The entire city is being destroyed and Nero rushes to help the people. He tries to help put out the fire only to later be accused of starting it himself.

As the book continues, Nero faces opposition and betrayal. You see him as he desires to make changes and do things in new ways. He wanted to create a cultural city full of art and theater. However, the leaders of Rome are stuck in the old ways and fight him every step of the way. I really loved Nero's character. He is so complex. He is an innovative thinker and an artist. He is sensitive but also can be very dark. 

This book also has a constant theme of politics and power. Nero hangs in the balance as his life is constantly threatened by people conspiring against him. We get to see how Nero changed in his last years due to the any betrayals he faced. 

Overall, this book is a wonderful fast read centered around one of the most captivating and notorious historical figures. This is the best in historical fiction and I highly recommend it.
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I received an advanced reading copy of this title via Net Galley in exchange for an honest review.
Margaret George once again provides us with a comprehensive yet easy to absorb biography of one of history's great enigmas. George succeeds brilliantly with giving Nero a place in modern historical fiction. Her prose is effective in its ability to manipulate the reader through the emotional turmoil of Nero while also providing intense descriptions of events that overpower the reader's ability to resist. The first half of the book is fast paced and riveting. There is a distinct falling off of the intensity of the story after the mid-way point. This is not due to any fault on George's part but reflects the lack of sources available on the later life of Nero. Overall the book provides wonderful insight on Nero and should not be passed over.
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[book:The Splendor Before the Dark|38599383] is the second of two novels that George wrote about Nero's life. While this novel  can certainly stand on its own, I definitely recommend you read the first, [book:The Confessions of Young Nero|30687928]. George is a master when it comes to delivering complex nuanced characters, inviting us into their inner lives in a way that will leave its mark on your own memory and life. There are several schools of thought about Nero and how horrible he might have been in life, but many modern historians think that some of these portrayals weren't, in fact, accurate. George takes this view and portrays Nero as a naive, creative artist who was not terribly suited to be emperor because his love for art and beauty were rather misplaced. My description is rather simplistic--George layers so much history and beauty into her story that I cannot do it justice. I had visited the remains of Nero's Golden House in Rome a few months ago, so much of her descriptions of Nero's sumptuous palace was fresh in my mind. 

In short, this is a fascinating, page-turning story about one of the most infamous people in history. I loved this book and predict that you will too.

Thanks NetGalley and Berkely, for the early read.
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History enjoys repeating itself. We may have advanced technologically, but we still mimic the same winning (or losing) attributes of our ancestors. There was gossip, and assassination plots, and Olympic games. Granted, the likes of Facebook and Instagram, Twitter, and Snapchat have amplified the directness of things like gossip, delivering them with such speed and efficiency. Think how many plans could have been foiled if history (particularly focusing on the Roman Empire today) had this technology available. For a culture so set in their ways, any new idea seemed like a direct snub to the gods. Would a forward-thinking emperor be the doom of Rome? Or would he pave the road in gold for the future?

Nero is twenty-six years old, and has reigned as emperor of Rome for nine years. While the climb has not been easy, it seems our young emperor is making a name for himself, in positive ways, as well as negative. Nero had openly admitted (as well as performed) his affinity for the arts; poetry, cithara playing, and the controversy-causing chariot racing. Nero was in Antium, having recited his narrative of the fall of Troy. A breathless courier interrupts Nero’s reverie with an urgent message: Rome is burning.

Without any hesitation, Nero decides to go home and help extinguish the fire. The blaze is uncontrollable as if it has a mind of its own driven by the wind. It jumps from one house to the next, inconsiderate of the livelihood of business and families it takes. The streets were bombarded with citizens fleeing. In the chaos, Nero witnessed a few people throwing torches into homes. Deliberate arson. The arsonists met their fiery end with unstable buildings collapsing on them, rendering them innocent in the real world, with hopes of justice in the underworld.

Naturally, with any disaster comes rumors. The fire was an accident. The fire was a result of arson. The emperor sat and played his cithara while Rome burned. The emperor set fire to Rome. The gods were punishing them. Of course the farther away one was, the more egregious the rumor. Nero set up several stations for the citizens; first aid, food and water, and most important (and equally devastating) was the missing people/ news board. The emperor himself even posted a list of people he would like found, and was overjoyed when most of the people were located.

When discussing the building of Rome:

“How can we afford it?”
An astute and painful question.
“We will afford it because we have no choice.”

Nero sees the needs of his people, they need (understandably!) a place to live- and they need to start right away. He wants to include and recreate what they had, but also build a bigger and better Rome for the future. Rome will be like a phoenix taking flight from the ashes. While seeing the emperor out and about gave the public much needed encouragement, while having the opposite effect on Nero. He saw nothing but devastation, lost, and years of hard work, which ultimately led to his futuristic architectural designs as well as his own demise.

Will Rome accept the major changes the emperor will lay at their doorstep, and advance to a forward thinking culture? Or will they revert to the old ways, and put faith in a Sibylline prophecy:

“Last of the sons of Aeneas, a mother-slayer, shall govern,
And that after that, Rome by the strife of her people shall perish.”

“The Splendor Before The Dark” is the continuation of “The Confessions of Young Nero” (a book I reviewed last year). This is the final installment in the Nero series- and to be honest, I’m not sure you could glean any more information if you tried.

While I try my best not to spoil a book, sometimes my thoughts get ahead of me. Because this book isn’t out until November of this year, here’s your fair warning.

“The Splendor Before The Dark” is definitely your historical fiction genre. This particular genre is one of those hidden gems that can either be hit or miss- I feel like there is no in between. This book definitely leans more towards the dry side of history, it’s engaging, but you are hit with fact after fact, and it gets a bit monotonous and repetitive. It’s unusual for me to say that too because I’m one of those readers that enjoys being inundated with descriptions. This more or less felt like a reading assignment in history class- I guess I would’ve liked more fiction with my history is what I’m trying to say.

Nero was an emperor ahead of his time, in my opinion. We have an architectural genius, whose designs at times defied what was possible. He was scorned for it, having too exotic of taste. I truly believe Nero would have fared well in today’s society. People would come far and wide to witness the spectacles he created, instead of questioning his motives for building them.

We’ve heard about emperor’s ruling with an iron fist, or being at war their entire reign, but reading this book puts Nero in a spotlight all on his own. Here we have a ruler trying to be three people at once; the ruler, the artist, and the man with dark, carnal desires. It’s unproductive when you are unable to be yourself, but to separate yourself and put on a face for each occasion sounds exhausting. I will give him this, Nero thought about the people. It may not have come across as that, but he was concerned about his citizen’s well-being. On the flip side, he also cared what they thought about him. He wanted to be on stage reciting poetry, and playing music, and racing chariots.

All in all, people are just as mean now as they were back then. At least in ancient times, someone had the audacity to come at you with a knife instead of bullying behind the comforts of a computer. This book gives you a lot of information to take in. And with uncommon names and places, (and with having chemo brain) a lot was lost on me. I did take initiative and watch a few BBC documentaries which were actually extremely helpful.

“The Splendor Before The Dark” by Margaret George is available for pre-order. The scheduled publishing date is currently November 6th, so be sure to look out for it on bookshelves! I was chosen by Netgalley to receive an advanced reader’s copy in exchange for an honest review. Given that fact, it has not altered my opinion on the book at all.
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