Book Review: The Year of the Snake by M.J. Trow and Mary Coleman

I’m slightly obsessed with Italy. I love the culture, history and most importantly, the food. My dream is to one day retire there but until then I have to make do with some short trips (next up is Turin in April!). So, when a book set in my favourite country comes my way, how can I say no?

The Year of the Snake* by M.J. Trow and Mary Coleman transports us back to first-century Rome where Senator Gaius Lucius Nerva is taken ill at a dinner party and dies a few days later. Although it is classed as a natural death, Calidus, Nerva’s recently freed slave, believes it is murder and sets out on a dangerous journey to find out just who the culprit is.

Considering my love for Italy, I have to start by applauding the authors for bringing to life so well the sounds, sights and smells of Rome. The more I became immersed in the story the more I felt I was actually there. This is no mean feat. Through a fictional work, several ancient traditions and beliefs were also displayed and if you are a long-time reader of Joyful Antidotes, you will know that I love learning via fictional stories.

Bringing The Year of the Snake to the next level is the various themes that feature throughout. My favourite theme was that of the relationship between a slave and his master and subsequently how life changes when a slave becomes a freedman. We don’t really see any of Calidus’ life as a slave but through conversations with high society people and with slaves, we get a good idea of the changes in his rank.

Other themes in The Year of the Snake include gossip, revenge and power – nothing less than one would expect from Ancient Rome. Family relationships also play a major role in this book and we are provided with very different family units in Calidus and his wife Paula, Calidus and the dead man he looked up to as a father, and the relationship between cruel Emperor Nero and his mother.

The final thing that meant The Year of the Snake got me hook, line and sinker is its similarity to a Shakespearian play. So, if you like the idea of Ancient Rome meets Hamlet and Lady Macbeth, this is a book you will certainly enjoy.

I was sent a copy of this book in exchange for an honest review.

The Year of the Snake

*affiliate link


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