The Confessions of Young Nero
History’s examination of Nero is, to say the least, complicated. A teenage emperor, dead by 30, blamed for the burning of Rome, to name just a few things. Let’s face it, though: That’s why he makes for such an intriguing story.
As a young child, Nero’s life is constantly in flux. His father is dead, his mother has been exiled, and he lives with an aunt who doesn’t care much for his well-being. As a member of the upper class, he spends his days in the midst of rulers and others with power over every aspect of his existence. His early years are far from pleasant. The first emperor he knew, Caligula, attempted to drown him. Needless to say, it didn’t make for happy childhood memories. However, when Claudius comes into power, Nero’s life changes immensely.
"Nero is an interesting figure, not just in this particular book, but in history, which is one of the many reasons his story is so fascinating.... There’s something wonderful about George’s Nero, and I’m looking forward to her continued treatment of him..."
With Claudius as emperor, Nero’s mother is brought out of exile, and their tumultuous relationship begins. Agrippina is cold-blooded and absolutely determined to gain power, especially in the wake of her exile. The last in the Julio-Claudian dynasty, a descendant of Augustus, Nero’s ancestry becomes his mother’s weapon of choice --- alongside the poison she’s more than willing to use --- pushing to exploit her son to meet her own needs. For Nero, life becomes a whirlwind. With his mother back, he moves into a new home, gains a father, and finally begins to believe that life can have its enjoyable moments.
Unfortunately, the stability he longs for isn’t anywhere to be had. Just when he thinks life will remain calm, he stumbles upon Agrippina’s plot to make him emperor. With this title bestowed on him, a teenage Nero takes charge. He soon realizes that his life will never be the simple one he dreamed of, full of arts and athletics. However, there is one major advantage to being emperor: He is in control.
Nero is an interesting figure, not just in this particular book, but in history, which is one of the many reasons his story is so fascinating. While he is often depicted as a disturbed individual, he was deeply devoted to the arts and generously sponsored musicians and painters during his reign. Margaret George takes a fresh look at Nero, a more sympathetic view even, which allows the reader to see him through new eyes outside the generally accepted characterization. Don’t worry, though, there’s still all the drama and intrigue associated with Nero and his family, so you won’t be let down.
There’s something wonderful about George’s Nero, and I’m looking forward to her continued treatment of him in her planned follow-up to THE CONFESSIONS OF YOUNG NERO, which I’m already eagerly anticipating.
Reviewed by Amy Gwiazdowski on March 9, 2017