From the time I discovered T.L. Higley’s work a couple of years ago through her Seven Wonders series, I have been reading everything of hers that comes my way. How did she make it onto my ‘must-read’ list? First – she writes historical Christian fiction in time periods and locales that other Christian authors won’t touch. Pre-New Testament times where there was no clear gospel witness (like ancient Egypt), and in New Testament times in exotic locales – not limited to Jerusalem and Judea. Most historical fiction being published for Christians these days seems to be limited to the bonnet and buggy era, and to be honest – I’m just not all that interested. She’s also a good writer with a passion for history and locale. Thank God for T.L. Higley!
For all these reasons, I am always so excited to get my hands on one of her novels, AND I think that Pompeii: City on Fire might just be her best offering yet! It could be that the Roman setting of Pompeii is more familiar to me than that of Petra (the last Higley novel I enjoyed), but the story was immediately engaging and drew me in right away. I read this novel in a day and a half and the compelling story drew me in and swept me away in tides of dramatic suspense.
Ariella is a young woman who was taken captive during the fall of Jerusalem to the Romans. Sold as a slave to a powerful Roman who was deeply involved in pagan rites involving debauchery and abuse her life in captivity for nine years led her to abandon the God of her youth and to eventually escape from her bondage into a new form of slavery by disguising herself as a male gladiator.
When her fighting troupe makes its way to Pompeii she encounters Quintus Cato – a man fleeing a career as a failed politician in Rome. Despite his attempts to avoid political involvement in his new home, he finds himself drawn into the fight against a corrupt government official that dominates and seeks to control the lives of those he loves. Though disguised as a boy, Ariella finds herself being drawn to this compassionate man who seeks to defend the weak and as Mount Vesuvius rumbles to the north the pair will find themselves thrown together as evil forces escalate in Pompeii and tensions mount.
I have to admit that I initially found the cover art a bit cheesy – a female gladiator, oh no! I was relieved to find that Higley pulls the storyline off though without ever descending into the realm of the trite or stereotypical. Having written a story filled with rich meaning, Higley has more than satisfied my expectations in her latest work.
Pompeii is definitely a book for adult readers. Many disturbing themes are addressed as the followers of pagan belief systems indulge in predatory manipulations and outright abuse. These are not described graphically, but though the references are somewhat veiled, and many times occurred in the past, the implications are clear and easily drawn by readers. These occurrences are entirely appropriate for the storyline and serve to develop a heightened appreciation for the freedom found through the sacrifice of Yeshua. In the midst of this spiritual oppression Ariella and Cato find themselves drawn into the loving embrace of a Savior and a people for whom the barriers of status, heritage, and religion have been demolished.
The romantic storyline is tender and full-hearted while remaining subdued in outward expression. This is one of the features that I adore about Higley’s work; subtle romances full of protective instinct and bursting into expression only at the height of the storyline when clear danger presents itself.
Experienced Higley readers will have their expectations fulfilled in this new novel, and new readers will no doubt find themselves scouring bookshelves for Higley’s work – as I now do.
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