"THE SEVEN WONDERS: A Novel of the Ancient World," by Steven Saylor, Minotaur Books, $25.99, 336 pages (f)
In “The Seven Wonders: A Novel of the Ancient World,” author Steven Saylor offers a prologue to his wonderful “Roma Sub Rosa” series and tells the story of a teenage Gordianus the Finder as he visits the architectural marvels of the ancient world and solves a host of mysteries along the way.
Setting out from Rome with his Greek tutor Antipater, Gordianus touches the shores of Greece, Asia, Persia and finally Egypt. Along the way he encounters the Temple of Artemis, the Mausoleum of Halicarassus, the ruins of the Colossus of Rhodes, the Great Pyramid of Egypt and more. As can be expected from Saylor's classical protagonist, Gordianus' journeys are filled with mystery, peril and betrayal.
Acting as a Roman Sherlock Holmes, Gordianus rises to each occasion and delves into riddles of missing mummies, enigmas surrounding graceful Gauls and puzzles dealing with burgling Babylonians. Each adventure leads him closer to a terrible secret that threatens the very stability of Rome.
Saylor's ability to re-create the classical world is always astounding, and “The Seven Wonders” is no exception. Expertly researched and beautifully written, the reader feels as though he's right there with Gordianus gazing upon the Statue of Zeus at Olympia, or making his way further up the Pharos Lighthouse in Alexandria. It is indeed a rare talent that can transport readers so completely into a long-dead world.
Portions of this novel do drag a bit, such as Gordianus' stopover in the ruins of Corinth, but generally Saylor's pace is good. Like other novels in the “Roma Sub Rosa” series, at its heart this book is superb mystery fiction. Readers will be sucked in at each wonder with Saylor's deft ability to shift suspicion and subtly leave clues, and will be blindsided by more than one twist and turn.
A thoroughly enjoyable read, this novel is a bit risque at times, though never gratuitous. Still, this is not a book for younger readers.
Cody K. Carlson holds a master's degree in history from the University of Utah and currently teaches at Salt Lake Community College. He is also the co-developer of the History Challenge iPhone/iPad apps. EMAIL: [email protected]