The Splendor Before the Dark
A Novel of the Emperor Nero
Nero’s ascent to the throne was only the beginning....Now Margaret George, the author of The Confessions of Young Nero, weaves a web of politics and passion, as ancient Rome’s most infamous emperor cements his place in history.
With the beautiful and cunning Poppaea at his side, Nero commands the Roman empire, ushering in an unprecedented era of artistic and cultural splendor. Although he has yet to produce an heir, his power is unquestioned.
But in the tenth year of his reign, a terrifying prophecy comes to pass and a fire engulfs Rome, reducing entire swaths of the city to rubble. Rumors of Nero’s complicity in the blaze start to sow unrest among the populace—and the politicians....
For better or worse, Nero knows that his fate is now tied to Rome’s—and he vows to rebuild it as a city that will stun the world. But there are those who find his rampant quest for glory dangerous. Throughout the empire, false friends and spies conspire against him, not understanding what drives him to undertake the impossible.
Nero will either survive and be the first in his family to escape the web of betrayals that is the Roman court, or be ensnared and remembered as the last radiance of the greatest dynasty the world has ever known.
“A resplendent novel filled with the gilt and marble of the ancient world.”—C. W. Gortner, author of The Romanov Empress
This unwieldy tome follows The Confessions of Young Nero to revisit the last years of the emperor's life. Opening with Rome's destruction in the great fire of 64 CE, the author remakes Nero (37 68 CE), the last of Julius Caesar's dynasty, as a circumspect ruler in love with his second wife, Poppaea, but still enamored with his first love, the freed slave Acte, now a successful businesswoman. Nero here is a sensitive musician who agonizes over difficult decisions and longs for his better self, and George uses the events during this part of his reign the slaughter of Christians, the plot to assassinate him, philosopher Seneca's subsequent forced suicide, his extravagant bank-busting rebuild of Rome as a way to suggest he was in fact an introspective leader who did not take lightly the decisions he felt forced to make for the good of Rome. Wordy, often contemporary prose Nero goes on a diet, has a cocktail to relax, contemplates his "getaway plans" is employed to portray the ruler sympathetically, and to cast his retreat and death by suicide as a loss for Rome. The author's distinctive version of ancient history, a far cry from Tacitus, will either amuse or infuriate aficionados of the period.