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The Splendor Before the Dark: A Novel of the Emperor Nero

by Margaret George

Series: Nero Series (2)

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1267221,135 (3.23)2
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.… (more)
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Showing 1-5 of 7 (next | show all)
As I said in my Review of Margaet George’s first book on Nero, I typically do not read historical fiction, but this book was a great example of historical fiction well done. This book picks up the story at the Great Fire in Rome in 64 A.D. As with her first book, this one is also extensively well researched and historically accurate. Margaret George conducted a great deal of research prior to writing this book. Much of her research and sources are detailed in an Afterword. The narrative flowed well, and is easy to read. Like the first book, this one is also long, almost 600 pages, so reading it took a while, but was time well spent.

Like in the first book, the story is told in the first person POV, mostly from Nero’s perspective, with a few chapters told from the point of view of other characters, such as Locusta, a poisoner, and Acte, one of Nero’s lovers.

This book shows a side of Nero not often seen. Nero is often portrayed as the emperor who “fiddled while Rome burned.” But George shows several other perspectives of the great emperor. Nero was a visionary in engineering, architecture, and urban planning. He was exceedingly generous and identified with the common man more than he did with the aristocrats of the day. Nero was blessed with artistic talent and culture. He was a poet, musician, athlete, and chariot racer, who had a passion for the arts and performing on stage.

As with the first book, I cannot recommend this book highly enough, especially for fans of ancient Rome and those who love a great historical fiction novel. Even though I do not normally read historical fiction, this book may make me change my mind about that. ( )
  dwcofer | Mar 27, 2023 |
So I did enjoy this better than The Confessions of Young Nero. But it still doesn't sit well with me that George tries to gloss over the more negative aspects of his reign. While she does bring up good points to Nero's reign - him actually trying to help Rome during the fire (and NOT fiddling) and the artistic era he brought fourth - she really does seem to attempt to apologize for his negative actions by bringing up the positive ones. I did enjoy this one better, as I said, but it does have its flaws. ( )
  historybookreads | Jul 26, 2021 |
The Splendor Before the Dark by Margaret George is the second of her books about Emperor Nero. The first book told the story of the child caught up in the palace intrigue from his very birth. This book is the story behind "Nero fiddled while Rome burned." Both books portray the emperor as a sympathetic character. An innocent child is much easier to depict as sympathetic versus a grown adult making choices, making this one a tougher sell.

See my complete review at http://www.memoriesfrombooks.com/2019/02/the-splendor-before-dark.html

Reviewed for Penguin First to Read program. ( )
  njmom3 | Feb 17, 2019 |
The Splendor Before the Dark is the sequel to Margaret George's The Confessions of Young Nero. The story begins when Nero is 26 and has been emperor for 9 years. It covers a 4 year period of time which is also the last 4 years of his life.

The story opens with Nero helping to put out the Great Fire of Rome. Here he is a benevolent ruler with concern for the poor citizens as well as the rich citizens of Rome. His political and administrative skills are top notch.

Rumors begin to circulate that Nero started the fire which wasn't true because he was out of town when it began. He brushed the rumors aside initially because all emperors have to deal with them. Nero sets about to rebuild Rome with grand public features even though some wealthy citizens will have to be displaced to make room for them. The houses will be grander and the placement of them will be organized in a beautiful city plan. The rumors become more intense that Nero started the fire so that he could rebuild the city and he decided that he could no longer ignore them. He came up with a plan to blame the Christians for the fire.

The author presented a Nero who loved to stage plays, play music, engage in athletics and compose lyrics. He is a man who fiercely loved 2 women. Acte is the girl he grew up with and who knew him as he really was, not as an emperor. He adored his wife of 2 years, Poppaea. When she died he was devastated. This is a sensitive man, not the man of history that we have come to know, except for the part about blaming and punishing the Christians by burning, crucifixion and feeding them to beasts.

While I enjoyed the book in the beginning, it was slower reading than the first book, The Confessions of Young Nero. It was a little wordy and less exciting than Confessions. It took me 6 weeks to read it! In addition, I don't remember Nero being such a nice guy in Confessions. He had to become evil in order to survive his family. The family was rough. They killed each other for power. There seemed to be a missing link between what Nero was like at the end of book 1 and what he was like in book 2. Am I missing something here? Did becoming emperor free him to be himself or did being the only surviving member of his family free him? I am just speculating.

Margaret George is well known for her research on the people she writes about. It is confusing to me that she gives us a nice Nero. Nero is not known historically as a nice person. She shows us Nero as a human being and explains in the Afterward that most of what we know about him was written by his enemies who had an agenda to destroy his reputation. However, she whitewashes the treatment he ordered against the Christians by preferring to focus on his leisure activities both before and after he made decisions to torture and execute them. This did not sit well with me. Most of the book was about Nero finding time to be an artist. If he was truly just an artist, why does she end the book with his successor killing everyone associated with him? He does not sound like he was a benevolent ruler here and it seems to me that George left out many of his ruthless actions as emperor.

She explains in her Afterward that she agrees with the historian Edward Champlain that Nero's actions were rational and that much of what he did resonated with contemporary social attitudes. Feeding people to beasts is rational? I think the people being fed were terrorized. George further stated that the Christians may have started the Great Fire in order to bring about the end times which is exactly what Nero thought and was the reason that he persecuted them. However, she writes in the novel that they had no involvement in the fire but writes in the Afterward that they may have. In addition, she stated that no one knows how widespread the persecution was and that the Christians may not have known about their own persecution. Really??? Ms. George has failed to read all of the historical accounts of their persecution by Nero. I find her thoughts offensive.

What is "the dark" referred to in the title? It's the last chapter where Nero is forced to commit suicide for an unknown reason. If you know history, you know why he had to do it. If all you know is the history presented in this book you must be confused.

The Splendor Before the Dark is thought provoking. It gives the reader a different perspective on Nero than history has provided but still shows him as a ruthless killer, albeit indirectly. I must state, though, that my opinion of Margaret George has changed from reading this book. In historical fiction the reader expects the author to be true to history. In this book she wasn't. It seems to me that she and Nero have the same opinion on Christianity. Otherwise she would not have focused so much attention on the importance of his leisure activities than the ordering of the slaughter of a group of people. ( )
  Violette62 | Jan 30, 2019 |
This historical fiction novel opens with Rome burning. The emperor Nero has been away from the capital enjoying time alone with his wife Poppaea, when he is called back to Rome to deal with the fire. A fire which is growing out of control, leaving a path of destruction in its wake and multitudes fleeing the city. While the fire is a disaster, Nero also sees it as a chance to recreate a city into one full of wide boulevards, parks and gardens for the people to enjoy. But not everyone is thrilled with his new construction projects, his focus on the arts or the costs involved. Nero alone seems to be filled with a dream to recreate Rome in the image of ancient Greece he so admires. Grumblings among the elite turns into an outright conspiracy against Nero's rule. When it is exposed Nero is forced to take action against those he once trusted the most, his closest friends and allies. More alone and isolated than ever he takes refuge in the arts and music, hoping for peace and glory and an heir to continue the dynasty.

The Splendor Before the Dark picks up where Margaret George's fist book about Nero, The Confessions of Young Nero, leaves off. In this book we are treated to a leader who has to mature and take on more responsibilities while grappling with the complex realities of life as Emperor. This is a well written fictional account of Rome that transports readers to another time and place which is fascinating and entertaining.

Thanks to Berkley Publishing for allowing me to read this book in exchange for an honest review.
More reviews at: www.susannesbooklist.blogspot.com ( )
  SUS456 | Dec 17, 2018 |
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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.

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