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"The Seven Wonders" by Steven Saylor

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fljustice
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"The Seven Wonders" by Steven Saylor

Post by fljustice » Sat July 7th, 2012, 7:58 pm

Gordianus the Finder is back in this prequel to Steven Saylor's popular series of mysteries set in the Roman Republic of Cicero and Caesar. Gordianus is eighteen and embarks on the First Century BCE equivalent of a "Grand Tour" with his old tutor and famous poet Antipater of Sidon. As the Italian peninsula simmers with rebellion, the pair head east to visit the Seven Wonders of the World encountering murder, mysteries and political intrigues. Over the course of their year+ journey, Gordianus evolves into "the Finder" series readers have come to know and love.

For the record, I am not a Gordianus fan. I very much enjoyed Saylor's multi-generational epics Roma and Empire, which I reviewed, but didn't take to the couple of Finder novels I sampled. Not because they were bad books, but because I'm not that into historical mysteries. Every reader has her quirks. This book has a distinctly different structure from the others. Saylor uses the journey to visit the Seven Wonders as a framework for several short stories (many of which were previously published in mystery and fantasy magazines.) Each Wonder gets a story with a few interludes, such as attending the Olympic Games and visiting the ruins of Corinth, resulting in ten chapters dealing with murder, witchcraft, ghosts and gods. As their journey continues, a larger mystery entangles Gordianus and Antipater with spies and other enemies of Rome.

But the real story is the evolution of the Gordianus character. He comes of age during these stories. His powers of observation and deduction sharpen as his naiveté concerning the greater world lessens. Saylor does a good job of portraying this young man in a strange land, struggling with another language and gradually coming to understand that the might of Rome is not always a protection among conquered peoples. But also like any young man abroad, he experiences a sexual awakening. He sleeps with his first woman, his first man, a priestess and (possibly) a goddess. By the end, he has grown into a capable man who earns the name "Finder."

One of the things I admire most about this book is the incredible research and description of the Wonders and the cities Gordianus and Antipater visit. As Saylor says in his Author's Note: "To explore the Seven Wonders, one enters a labyrinth of history, legend, hard facts and half-facts, cutting-edge archaeology and the very latest innovation in virtual reality." He does a great job of bringing the locations alive and seamlessly incorporating history into the narrative without bringing the stories to a screeching halt. Each Wonder is given its due with historical accuracy and vivid description. For this alone, I'd recommend the book. For Gordianus fans, it's a must read.

The Details:

Title: The Seven Wonders: A Novel of the Ancient World
Author: Steven Saylor
ISBN: 978-0-312-35984-3
Publisher: Minotaur Books, 2012
Format: Hardcover with dust jacket, 321 pages
Price: $25.99

Note: The publisher provided a free copy of this book, but the opinions expressed in the review are my own and not in consideration for the book.

This review is also posted on my blog where I'll be giving away two copies of the book. Giveaway details.
Last edited by fljustice on Sun September 2nd, 2012, 4:26 pm, edited 1 time in total.
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lauragill
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Post by lauragill » Sat July 7th, 2012, 11:37 pm

I just started this book today and am liking it so far.

annis
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Post by annis » Thu July 12th, 2012, 8:52 am

Thanks for the review, Faith- I've had this on my watch list for a while. Many years ago I started Saylor's Gordianus series but at the time didn't really take to them, even though I enjoy historical mysteries. However I gave them another go recently and loved them - in fact I went through the whole lot pretty much one after another. Interestingly, I rediscovered several passages in the first two books which had stayed vividly in my mind all this time, even though I'd long since forgotten which novels I'd originally read them in.

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Post by laktor » Fri July 13th, 2012, 5:25 am

Yes, thank you for this review. I am also not a fan of mystery novels, even with the historical background, but I, too, loved Roma and Empire. Because of your review, The Seven Wonders will definitely go on my future reading list. Thanks again!

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Margaret
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Post by Margaret » Sat July 14th, 2012, 1:00 am

I am a Saylor fan, so I'm glad to hear even someone who isn't liked this one! I've got it on hold at the library and can't wait until it comes in.
Browse over 5000 historical novel listings (probably well over 5000 by now, but I haven't re-counted lately) and over 700 reviews at www.HistoricalNovels.info

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Post by annis » Sat September 1st, 2012, 8:51 pm

Thoroughly enjoying this one and love the concept of the European Grand Tour of the 17th and 18th centuries transposed to the ancient world. Picking up some interesting tidbits as well, like the celebration of an Olympiad and the background to the destruction of Corinth following Rome's war against the Achaean League. Then there are the mysteries, cleverly interspersed along the way - great stuff!

I see that Saylor has gone with the traditional idea that Babylon was the home of the famous Hanging Gardens, though there is now some question about that. Some scholars have suggested that they may have been fictional, and inspired by the gardens developed by Assyrian king Sennacherib for his palace at Nineveh. However Gordianus' expedition to Babylon does give us the chance to "see" the Great Ziggurat and the fabled Ishtar Gate (fond memories of Sprague de Camp's entertaining Dragon of the Ishtar Gate - another story about a young man's voyage of discovery in the company of a Greek mentor).
Last edited by annis on Mon September 3rd, 2012, 8:51 pm, edited 4 times in total.

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