Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Book Review: 'The Viper Amulet' by Martha Marks

New Mexico author Martha Marks earned her Ph.D. at Northwestern University, taught on the faculties of Northwestern University and Kalamazoo College, and was a co-author of three college level Spanish textbooks. Her passion is all things Italian – especially ancient Roman history – and has spent a good bit of travel time to visiting the important ancient sites of Italy, both as a child and as an adult. From these early seeds of fascination she has created a series – the initial book of which is RUBIES OF THE VIPER and now the sequel to that story in THE VIPER AMULET. She now lives in Santa Fe, New Mexico.

The ability to capture the essence of ancient Rome is evident from the opening of Martha’s book. In a matter of a few words she has established the distant past with veracity, suggesting that she indeed has more than traveling experience as her connection to old Rome: Life is a journey, the wise men said, and Theodosia Varro knew it was true. She had endured too many journeys already in her twenty-two years. But philosophy wasn’t on her mind that morning, five hours into the escape from her ancestral villa, when the thing she feared most in the world rose up in front of her. At first it was just a rumble. Then a slow, steady pounding. Fish fled. Seabirds screamed. Waves rocked harder. The massive ship picked up speed as it headed toward the fishing boat hired to spirit her away, along with two men who had risked their own lives to save hers. Dearest Juno, I’m really not much of a threat to him. She clutched the skiff’s splintered wales as blood from her palms and fingertips smeared its peeling green paint. Why can’t he let us be?’

And with that background the synopsis outlines where the volume will take us – ‘AD 56 — Disgraced and impoverished, Theodosia Varro flees Italy with the man she loves. As Emperor Nero’s agents give chase, they escape to a place that should offer safety and peace, only to find an unexpected foe waiting. Conflicts mount as Theodosia battles known and unknown enemies who put her life and family at risk. Ultimately, she ventures into a foreign land whose culture she does not understand—and into a brutal war zone—to salvage what remains of her dreams.’

Powerful, evocative visit to ancient Rome with both its history shared (in the back of the book is a fine summation of the actual facts of the time of the novel) and its embracing of slavery, Martha Marks takes s there with this superb novel and leaves us eager for the next installment! Grady Harp, January 18

Editor's note: This review has been published with the permission of Grady Harp. Like what you read? Subscribe to the SFRB's free daily email notice so you can be up-to-date on our latest articles. Scroll up this page to the sign-up field on your right.