My rating: 3 of 5 stars
Pompeii is a novel set in 79 C.E., and opens two days before the eruption of Mount Vesuvius. But while it is a sort of retelling of that eruption and its consequences, the eruption is not its main focus, and it contains plenty of suspense, mystery, and a decent plot. The main character, Marcus Atilius, is an aquarius, or hydrollic engineer, in charge of the Aqua August aqueduct which supplies water to Pompeii and it’s surrounding towns. Atilius is sent down from Rome to find out why there is a water shortage in the area. He finds that the aqueduct is blocked and has to be repaired, and while trying to get the job done, runs into all kinds of corruption on the part of political officials, greed on the part of an incredibly cruel and ruthless freed slave, and men who all but refuse to recognize his authority. There is a bit of romance too, but it’s not overdone. The novel features historical personages as well, namely Pliny the Elder and Younger. In my oppinion, Pliny the Elder comes off as one of those tragic academic characters, who is more concerned about facts on paper than he is about reality. It’s clear that Harris did a lot of research when writing this novel, and I’m glad for that. I can’t stand novels that are supposed to be about historical events but include no research. He includes a lot of technical details, (which I found interesting), but those details enhance the story instead of overshadowing it. The only part I think the book could have done without was the semi-dramatic attempted assassination scene at the top of Mount Vesuvius. It really didn’t add anything to the plot. Harris did a good job, though, by including various tidbits of vulcanic research, and by doing so presents the mountain itself as an unseen monster waiting to get everyone. Atilius manages to get the aqueduct repaired only hours before the eruption destroys everything, and at the end, manages to escape with his love interest, Corelia, (who is the daughter of the freed slave), up the aqueduct. I think I would like to see a sequel which follows the subsequent lives of Atilius and Corelia. I like seeing the good guys win out sometimes, (especially an engineer of this sort). All the same, I was glad the book wasn’t superficial in that the good guy wins and gets the girl despite the impossible odds. That’s a clichet which has been really overplayed, especially in current movies. And speaking of movies, Pompeii was slated to be made into a movie, and would have been so if it hadn’t been for the 2007 Writer’s strike. I would like to have seen that. I think it would have been one of the better vulcano movies. I actually watched Vulcano this afternoon after finishing the book, thinking it would be something similar, and was very much disappointed. But that’s a review for another time.