The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston

23848192The Shards of Heaven is a fascinating alternate history set during the period of the Roman Empire just shortly after the death of Caesar.  I enjoyed this so much that when I finished reading I actually went to check out some of the history of the period and having done so was even more impressed with the skill which the author has used here to bring us a very easy to read narrative with a twist on the actual events that feels almost like a credible account of what could have taken place.

Octavian, Caesar’s nephew and adopted son has taken control of Rome.  However, he doesn’t intend to leave potential suitors around to lay claim to the empire and he particularly has his eye on Caesarion, Cleopatra’s first son by Caesar.  As a result Rome and Alexandria go to war , although Octavian uses Marc Antony’s defection to Alexandria as the cause hiding his real motives amongst this insult to the Empire.

Meanwhile, Juba – another adopted son of Caesar and former Numidian Prince – is on a quest of his own.  He searches for ancient relics which are believed to hold the power of God.  Nuba himself has an ulterior motive for his search.  He seeks vengeance against Rome for the death of his father and intends to use these treasures, known as Shards, to obtain his desires.  

Done well I simply love stories like this and this story is done very well.  Livingston has taken what is already a very battle led, tempestuous and political era of history and injected it with a little more spice.  In this case the fantasy has a biblical feel with moments of calm followed by thrashing waves and skies torn asunder by bolts of lightening.  Very fitting indeed for this particular era the fantasy is subtle and doesn’t overrule the narrative.  On top of this the author takes some of the lesser known characters and reimagines their stories filling them with thoughts and fears and adding possible scenarios and conversations.  You will like these characters, you won’t be able to help yourself, and consequently you’ll hold your breath as the story unfolds and you desperately read on hoping that they’ll survive against the odds. 

I particularly liked Pullo and Vorenus.  These are a couple of battle hardened Roman soldiers who are exiled to Alexander and are now faced with warring against their own people.  They’ve become attached to the family over the years spent with Cleopatra and Antony and have acted as bodyguards to the children.  They’re a very easy pair to like.  Then we have Didymus, a scholar and tutor to the children – well, he has a secret in his past that he, rightfully so, isn’t proud of and wants to redress.  Selene is Cleopatra’s daughter.  She’s sharp witted and courageous and refuses to be kept in her place simply for having been born a female.  

I really like that Livingston has taken a very well known period of history but rather than focus on the characters we already know has chosen to base his character on these smaller, lesser known characters that have only a small mention in history.  I love the way he’s created an alternate history that keeps all the main events untouched at the same time as introducing a different story with fantasy elements that supports the historical version. 

The writing is quite unembellished, and I mean that in a good way.  The author has plenty to play with here and it would be easy to weigh this story down with heavy descriptions.  As it is I think he does a very good job of bringing the period to life, showing the way in which these characters live and avoiding info dumps.  I thought the battle scenes were really well written and easy to imagine and loved reading about the Library in Alexandria and the underground tunnels, not to mention the myths surrounding the shards and their possible implications in earlier historical events.  I will mention that this is told in a modern voice and style, which I personally really appreciated, but be aware of that before picking this up.

So, to be clear.  I loved this book and would have no hesitation in recommending it.  I thoroughly enjoyed reading it and in fact it’s one of a few books that I’ve read this year that I could happily have finished the last page and returned to the start for a reread.  I really look forward to the next instalment.  If you love history, alternate history and fantasy and want to read characters that make you feel something then give The Shards of Heaven a try.

I received a copy of this courtesy of the publishers through Netgalley for which my thanks.  The above is my own opinion.

26 Responses to “The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston”

  1. NightGirl

    Ah, glad to hear good things about this! I’ve been slowly reading this for about a week now. Not my normal style but still good so far!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I really enjoyed it – it feels like I’ve been reading a lot of books in a similar or related vein just recently so perhaps my mindset is focused in that direction. But, I loved this. A modern telling of a very old period of history with a different slant.
      Lynn 😀

  2. Grace

    Great review! This sounds like a fun read.

    • @lynnsbooks

      Grace – I think you would really like this one because of your love of history. The author has written this so very well, I love the way he hasn’t actually changed a thing but then brought to the fore these peripheral characters and spun a tale around them at the same time as everything else going forward. It was so good.
      Lynn 😀

  3. Lisa (@TenaciousReader)

    I really enjoyed this one! Glad to see you did as well. This was a very easy (likely due to the unembellished style you mentioned), but very captivating read! I can’t wait for the next one. 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I enjoyed it so much more than I expected! Really good.
      Lynn 😀

  4. DJ (@MyLifeMyBooksMyEscape)

    I have to check this one out! I actually hadn’t heard of this until last week, but I’ve read quite a few good review for it. Seems like it has a lot of historical accuracy (minus the fantasy, of course), and I do love my ancient history 🙂

  5. maddalena@spaceandsorcery

    This is the second instance I see a glowing review about this book in a short time period: I guess I will have to give in to its “siren song” as soon as possible… 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      I think you’d like it – it really is a great story.
      Lynn 😀

  6. Maryam (@thecurioussffreader)

    I received this book for review and it sounds great 🙂

  7. Mogsy @ BiblioSanctum

    Yes, don’t you love it when a book makes you go and read up on historical events and people? I love reading historical fantasy for this reason (I also did this a lot with Sarah Pinborough’s Mayhem and Murder!) Glad you enjoyed this book, I loved it too!

    • @lynnsbooks

      I do love it when a book makes me so curious and this certainly did! I really enjoyed it.
      Lynn 😀

  8. jessicabookworm

    This sounds brilliant! I also thought the names Vorenus and Pullo rung a bell with me; they’re the main protagonists in the BBC/HBO’s great series Rome 🙂

    • @lynnsbooks

      Yeah, Pullo and Vorenus get a mention in history apparently – only a small mention but nonetheless. As Selena does. This is such a good read – I actually think you’d really love it and because of the other books I’ve been reading recently it feels like they all mesh somehow – even though they’re probably years apart. This is a really good book though. It was on Netgalley – you should check out if it’s still on there.
      Lynn 😀

  9. Sharry

    I’ve heard lots about this one! And it appeals to me because there aren’t enough fantasy books based in Ancient Egypt – and bonus that it doesn’t the titans of the time Caesar or Cleopatra or Anthony but their kids of which I don’t know much about but I heard are equally as interesting.

    • @lynnsbooks

      This book really spotlights the more peripheral characters of the story and that’s why I think it was so easy to love. It’s written really well, just enough to give you a picture but not enough to weigh the story down with description and the characters are just brilliant. Plus, it takes a well documented period of history, keeps all the events true but adds a bit of fantasy that casts a different interpretation on what could have happened and what might happen next. Really clever and very enjoyable.
      Lynn 😀

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