Curses and Smoke: A Novel of Pompeii

Written by Vicky Alvear Shecter
Review by Nancy Castaldo

Vicky Alvear Shecter, the author of three nonfiction books and the well-received YA novel Cleopatra’s Moon, sets her new novel in the Roman city of Pompeii. Lucia is the only surviving child of her father. While he needs money to expand his gladiator school, Lucia wants to discover all that is around her. She is curious about the changes she sees in the natural world. Tag is a slave and a healer who yearns for a free life with Lucia, but Lucia is promised to someone else – a man her father’s age. Even if she wasn’t betrothed, a match to a slave is out of the question.

Curses and Smoke expertly weaves the lives of these two ancient characters with the final days of Pompeii before Vesuvius erupts. Shecter has done her research, and she brings the final days of Pompeii alive with its smells, foods, people and rumblings. Although forbidden love is a central theme in this young adult novel, Shecter also introduces readers to topics of suicide, religion, slavery, and the treatment of women and girls. Her author’s note gives readers further information about these issues. Readers who love historical fiction will enjoy Shecter’s use of Latin throughout the text and the fast-moving plot.