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review 2015-12-16 12:29
Fine Historical-Fiction
The Shards of Heaven - Michael Livingston

The Shards of Heaven is a wonderfully written work of historical-fiction; one which is able to evoke the awe and majesty of the final days of the Roman Republic while mixing in enough fantastical elements to create something fresh and original. Enjoyable alone, it is the first installment in The Shards of Heaven series and loudly proclaims a new voice in the genre, a writer whom we will all be reading for years to come.

The story begins immediately after the fall of Julius Caesar at the hands of disgruntled senators. Rome is in chaos; the specter of war looms over all. The figures at the center of the political maelstrom are Caesar’s grand-nephew and adopted son Gaius Julius Caesar Octavianus; his supposed biological son Caesarion by the Egyptian pharaoh Cleopatra; and his ally and a renowned general Marc Antony. Each of these titans of history playing a pivotal part in a dramatic assassination attempt immediately after Caesar’s death

Once the frantic beginning is done, Shards skips ahead in time to the period before the final war of the Roman Republic, focusing on Prince Juba of Numidia. This young man is another adopted son of Julius Caesar; his biological father having fought unsuccessfully against Rome in northern Africa and having died rather than be captured; and while Juba plays the dutiful Roman and subservient brother of Octavian, deep down he is neither, but rather a hater of Rome who is diligently plotting his revenge against it. A revenge which depends on him locating and wielding the god-like powers of the Shards of Heaven; an artifact which legend says is the Trident of Poseidon and perhaps the Staff of Moses.

While Juba’s quest proceeds, the narrative weaves a vivid picture of a Mediterranean world sitting upon the edge of a precipice; war seemingly inevitable, as Octavian eyes the eastern lands which Mark Antony and his paramour Cleopatra hold in trust for Caesarion and their own children. All that is needed is a spark to begin yet another war in the Roman Republic. A war which will sweep aside the old and usher in the new!

As a lover of history and a student of Roman history when I was in college many decades ago, my favorite aspect of Shards was its amazing portrayal of this epoch in time. The Mediterranean world literally comes to life before your eyes. The Rome Republic and Ptolemaic Egypt shown in their true historic brilliance. Dr. Livingston delving far below the surface of each to reveal their unique natures, distinct qualities, and the huge differences which separated them from one another. And for a few hours, I actually felt like I had walked in the streets of both Rome and Alexandria, which is something I will never forget.

Characters are the other highlight of this story. The faithful rendition of many familiar legendary players is extremely well-done. Octavian, Mark Antony, and Cleopatra literally burst off the pages here, mesmerizing in their grandeur and perplexing in their faults. But even more impressive than them were the other – lesser known – characters such as Caesarion, Juba, and Cleopatra Selene. Each of these youths grow before your eyes into living, breathing individuals caught up in titanic events, desperately attempting to live through it all, and it is through them (more than their more well-known co-stars) that Shards’ real story shines.

My only criticism of the novel would be its assumption that readers have a rudimentary understanding of this period of Mediterranean history. As I mentioned, the beginning is fast and furious, introduces the names of Cleopatra, Caesarion, Mark Antony, and Octavian, but then fast-forwards ahead to a world where Octavian rules in Rome and Mark Antony and Cleopatra rule in Egypt. How all this occurred isn’t really explained except in the most basic ways. Not knowing how Octavian and Antony and Cleopatra arrived at this moment in history won’t necessarily keep you from enjoying Shards, but it does make it a tad bit more difficult to understand why these people are acting as they are.

Fantastical elements, engaging characters, a vivid world and a fast-moving plot, Dr. Livingston has endowed The Shards of Heaven will all these elements — and many more. It really is a historical-fiction novel which should not be missed, and I’d highly recommend all lovers of intricate, epic stories to give this amazing novel a try.

I received this novel for free in exchange for an honest and unbiased review. The thoughts you have read are mine alone.

Source: bookwraiths.com/2015/12/15/the-shards-of-heaven
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review 2015-12-15 12:49
Fantasy Review: The Shards of Heaven by Michael Livingston
The Shards of Heaven - Michael Livingston

Equal parts historical fiction, epic fantasy, and philosophical discourse, The Shards of Heaven is an altogether fascinating read. Opening with the assassination of Julius Caesar, the story details the war that took place between his heirs and allies, with Cleopatra, Marc Antony, and Caesarion (Caesar's son) on the side of Egypt, and Octavian (Caesar's great-nephew) and Juba (Caesar's adopted son) on the side of Rome.

It's with the role of Juba, however, that fiction begins to deviate from fact.Michael Livingston portrays Juba as a vengeful son, secretly plotting revenge against the world for his real father's defeat at the hands of Caesar. Further deviating from fact into fantasy, Juba has discovered the mythological trident of Poseidon, which also happens to be the equally mythological staff of Moses.

That, right there, is where the story really pulled me in. Anybody who has studied mythology knows that there are themes and stories that are common to faiths across the world. Livingston looks at the various mythologies of the ancient world - most notably those of Greek, Roman, and Jewish origin - and asks whether it is "possible that all the deities of the world were reflections of the same, single, united god?" Furthermore, in questioning why such a god allows bad things to happen, he suggests that god may actually be dead - an event that allowed The Shards of Heaven to fall to Earth, where they were harvested as magical talismans.

If that sounds a bit too cerebral, just wait until you see Poseidon's trident being used to raise up the seas and smash a ship to pieces with a massive watery fist. The power of the trident/staff terrifies Juba, and exhausts him in his attempts to control it, but it provides Octavian with the power to change the world. As terrifying as it is, however, the shard that became the Ark of the Covenant are speculated to be ever more incredible, with the power to destroy world. So, what we end up with here is a dual fantasy. On the one had we have a rather traditional bit of historical fiction that acknowledges the true powers of the ancient world, but which allows a cast of minor characters - historical footnotes, if you will - to drive the narrative forward. On the other hand, you have an epic fantasy that takes the seeds of faith and creates its own mythology. Everybody wants a shard of their own, as much for the mythological significance as the magical powers they contain, leading to a dual race against time as historians search and armies clash.

Definitely one of the most original fantasies I've read this year, The Shards of Heaven really does work on multiple levels. It's the mythology of the shards that intrigued me the most, and Juba who made me a fan of the story, but those looking for a solid historical tale of Egypt versus Rome will be equally satisfied.

Hardcover, 416 pages
Published November 24th 2015 by Tor Books

Disclaimer: I received a complimentary copy of this title from the publisher in exchange for review consideration.This does not in any way affect the honesty or sincerity of my honest review.
Source: beauty-in-ruins.blogspot.ca/2015/12/fantasy-review-shards-of-heaven-by.html
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review 2015-08-30 00:00
At the End of Babel
At the End of Babel - Michael Livingston At the End of Babel - Michael Livingston Interesting short story about a native woman living in a dystopian world. And that's all I'm going to say about it as I think this story is one you should discover yourself. Available to read for free online at Tor.com!
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