From the Ashes

Written by Melissa Addey
Review by Waheed Rabbani

In 79 AD Pompeii, a slave and scribe, Althea, is offered to Marcus, a former soldier, and operator of the amphitheater. Althea’s master makes a gift of her to sweeten a deal with Marcus on behalf of Emperor Titus. As manager of the Colosseum, under construction in Rome, Marcus will arrange its inauguration and create the Games. It’s a challenging appointment, for the Colosseum will be ready in less than a year. Marcus accepts the lucrative assignment since he wishes to retire on a farm. He arrives in Rome with Althea, and she assists Marcus in dealing with construction foremen, painters, animal trainers, the gladiators, and others. Marcus strives to coordinate the work and ensure its timely completion to his exacting details and specifications. However, upon hearing of Mount Vesuvius’s eruption, Marcus rushes back to ash-covered Pompeii in search of his wife and child. Althea covers for Marcus, struggling to continue his work and shield Marcus from the Emperor’s wrath for any delays.

Melissa Addey notes that she based this series while pondering about “the backstage team of the Colosseum.” While the Roman Games of such immense proportion—much like the Olympic Games—would have required a permanent and experienced group, there is hardly any mention of them in history texts. Addey had to imagine most of them, including the intricate details of the Colosseum’s construction. She recounts them with remarkable ingenuity, using her skill as a historical fiction author and her dedicated research and travels. The sections describing the aftereffects of the disastrous eruption of Mount Vesuvius, in Althea’s first-person voice, make us feel as if we are there with the characters sensing their anguish and pain. Also, the details of that period’s Roman architecture, customs, mannerisms, relationships, and cuisine are a pleasure to read. Readers will eagerly await the sequel. Highly recommended.