Publisher: Arthur A. Levine Books
Reading level: Young Adult
Links: Author's Website/Goodreads
Overall: 3 out of 5 stars
When your world blows apart, what will you hold onto?
TAG is a medical slave, doomed to spend his life healing his master's injured gladiators. But his warrior's heart yearns to fight in the gladiator ring himself and earn enough money to win his freedom.
LUCIA is the daughter of Tag's owner, doomed by her father's greed to marry a much older Roman man. But she loves studying the natural world around her home in Pompeii, and lately she's been noticing some odd occurrences in the landscape: small lakes disappearing; a sulfurous smell in the air. . . .
When the two childhood friends reconnect, each with their own longings, they fall passionately in love. But as they plot their escape from the city, a patrician fighter reveals his own plans for them -- to Lucia's father, who imprisons Tag as punishment. Then an earthquake shakes Pompeii, in the first sign of the chaos to come. Will they be able to find each other again before the volcano destroys their whole world?
Historical fiction has always been one of my favorite genres and I like to read about a wide variety of time periods. When I first heard about Vicky Alvear Shecter's novel of Pompeii I was so excited- this was one part of our history that I hadn't read about recently and I was intrigued to see how she would depict this horrible disaster. While this was a well-written novel with strong characters, I didn't find this book as engaging or informative as I had hoped.
Lucia is the daughter of the master of the gladiators in Pompeii and Tag is a medical slave. Curses and Smoke is told through alternating points of view between the two of them. Lucia lived a luxurious life, but was very much under her father's control. Even though she did have an adventurous side and seemed to really care for Tag, it often appeared that Lucia just wanted to be with Tag because he was something different and allowed her to do something against her father's wishes. Tag was a much more likable character, in my opinion. He cared deeply for his own father and was dedicated to his medical duties; yet Tag still had aspirations to become a gladiator and earn his freedom.
The plot was very slow-paced at first, but the last few chapters definitely had me on the edge of my seat. It was strange knowing what everything was leading up to. It's hard to describe my feelings about this book because it is based on a real natural disaster, but it was especially awful to see what happened to Pompeii after experiencing the city through the eyes of Tag and Lucia.
I have to say the ending was a huge what. So much happened at once that I just had to sit there after I finished and try to process it all.
I would recommend Curses and Smoke to anyone who enjoys historical fiction with a romantic twist. As a whole I liked this new book by Vicky Alvear Shecter, but I had a few issues that left me conflicted. I am looking forward to seeing what time period she covers next, though!