Booklist: Gods, Princes, and Ancient Rome in Historical Fiction

Exploration has been on the minds of humanity since the beginning of time. Whether it is discovering a new star, landing on a new continent, or making scientific breakthroughs, exploring the world has piqued the curiosity of men and women for ages. Perhaps this is why I find the historical fiction genre so satisfying. I was (and still am) enthralled with the ability to pick up a book and find myself in a different place on Earth, fighting for survival on the Titanic, seeing women’s suffrage in the early 1900’s, or attending a magical boarding school in Victorian England.

Historical fiction is not only entertaining, but it promotes listening to and understanding multiple perspectives. Oftentimes, history is portrayed as one-sided and flat: events transpired and results occurred. However, in a good historical fiction plot, we see the protagonist handling conflict, weighing different points of view, and examining the complex nature of issues at hand.

While there is no way I could definitively state which time period or location is my favorite to read about, I have chosen a few young adult novels that will take you back in time to Ancient Rome! The following novels are so exciting that you can practically hear the clash of steel and feel the hot desert sand sting your face.

An Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa TahirAn Ember in the Ashes by Sabaa Tahir

Possibly my favorite book of 2015, Sabaa Tahir’s debut novel has been taking the world of YA literature by storm. Originally published without concrete plans for a sequel, Tahir’s novel is set in the Martial Empire- a brutal, fight-or-die empire inspired by Ancient Rome. The novel follows two protagonists from opposite sides of this empire’s spectrum. Laia is a lowly Scholar whose brother is captured by Martial soldiers for conspiring against the empire. Determined to rescue the only family she has left, Laia risks everything to go undercover and spy on the Commandant, the brutal head of the Martial military, in exchange for her brother’s freedom. Elias is an elite member of the Martial military, the Masks, endowed with special rights and powers to use for the empire’s benefit. However, he did not choose this journey and instead longs for his own freedom. As Laia and Elias’ paths cross, they realize that freedom will be much more difficult to attain than they thought. With the rapid popularity that this novel has received, a sequel has been confirmed for this series.

Mark of the Thief by Jennifer A. NielsenMark of the Thief by Jennifer Nielsen

Nic is a slave with a penchant for rebellion. Forced into slavery in ancient Rome, Nic is required to retrieve an amulet that once belonged to Julius Caesar. This is no ordinary amulet- it is filled with power reserved for the gods. Nic ultimately desires freedom and decides to use the amulet for that end. However, he finds himself at the center of a complex inside conspiracy to destroy Rome and all its glory. Nic must battle evil, traitors with nefarious intentions, and magical influences to save Rome and gain his freedom. Mark of the Thief is perfect for readers who love Rick Riordan’s Percy Jackson and the Olympians series or Jennifer A. Nielsen’s The Ascendance Trilogy.

Legacy of Kings by Eleanor HermanThe Legacy of Kings by Eleanor Herman

This edge-of-your-seat historical fiction thriller was recently released in August. Author Eleanor Herman, who is incidentally also a historian, brilliantly weaves historical details alongside sizzling action and intrigue. Imagine living in a time where it was believed that the gods decided your fate; or in a time where an empire rose and fell at the whim of an alliance, and magic was more than just superstition. In Legacy of Kings, this is the reality. Alex is Macedonia’s sixteen-year-old heir who is about to realize his fate as one of the world’s most renowned leaders. In the turmoil and confusion of the palace, he’s drawn to Katerina, a new face in Pella who is attempting to navigate the intrigues of the palace while pursuing her own mission. Meanwhile, Kat’s first love, Jacob, needs to do everything in his power to become worthy of Kat’s lasting affection, even if it means joining the ranks of a brutal group of elite warriors known as the Aesarian Lords. Jacob struggles to remain loyal to this new task and Kat. As Alex delves deeper into the recesses of his Empire, he learns secrets about those closest to him, including his best friend Hephaestion, who has a dark past that threatens to unravel their friendship and the Empire. Finally, Zofia, a Persian princess who lives across the sea, is Alex’s fiancée. Yet, they’ve never met each other, and Zo is determined to alter her fate and live a life of freedom and independence. Eleanor Herman’s historian background is evident in this young adult debut, as the world of ancient Rome jumps off the page with ferocity and passion. This novel is a perfect adult crossover for young adult and adult readers who enjoy historically based plots with a hint of magic woven throughout.

— Elise Martinez, currently reading Walk the Earth a Stranger by Rae Carson and Finding Audrey by Sophie Kinsella