Fiction is fun, but don't mess with the history

Saturday, January 23, 2016

Raiders of the Nile, by Steven Saylor (2014)

Steven Saylor, creator of Gordianus the Finder, has written a trio of prequel novels that fill in some of the earlier adventures of a young Gordianus. The trilogy title is A Novel of the Ancient World, and the first of the three novels, titled The Seven Wonders, was reviewed previously.

The second book is Raiders of the Nile, and readers of The Seven Wonders will remember that Gordianus ends up in Alexandria (90 B.C.), where he decides to stay awhile in order to avoid the mayhem back home in Rome. Raiders of the Nile opens two years later with Gordianus still in Alexandria, situation unchanged.

Having read previously about the revolt against Rome by its neighboring Italian states, and the concurrent revolt led by Mithridates VI in faraway Pontus, readers might expect Gordianus to somehow become ensnared in one or both of those struggles. What we get instead is closer to an Indiana Jones romantic adventure, with exotic locations, fabulous treasures, bloodthirsty pirates, narrow escapes and improbable plot twists.

Which is all fine, unless you were expecting a historical novel containing lots of history - not just a historical setting. I confess to increasing disappointment as I read farther and farther without encountering either historical characters or events. It wasn't until the closing "Author's Note" that it became clear what Saylor was trying to accomplish. In researching ancient Alexandria, Saylor became interested in the novels written by the ancient Greeks - few of which survive today. Raiders of the Nile is Saylor's tribute to those Greek novels of old.

In the end, it's an entertaining story, featuring many of the same locations in ancient Alexandria that were introduced in The Seven Wonders, but the upcoming big events in Egypt's story are still just over the historical horizon. I assume Saylor doesn't intend to switch permanently to this history-lite style, so I'm going to give him a pass on the 5 criteria and move on the conclusion to the trilogy - Wrath of the Furies. Gordianus has to end up back in Rome by the end of this prequel, and I'm counting on Saylor to make that journey interesting.

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