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The River Through Rome  By  cover art

The River Through Rome

By: Nicholas Nicastro
Narrated by: Melanie Crawley
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Publisher's Summary

In the waning years of the Roman Republic, a talented engineer is tapped to bring water to one of the city’s most notorious slums. Nonius believes he is doing good for his city, but he isn’t counting on the many obstacles that prevent anything from getting done in those turbulent times. His troubles multiply when he falls in love with beautiful, haunted Amaris, concubine of a senator who is determined to stop Nonius’ aqueduct from going through. The clash between them runs from the bedrooms to the streets to the courtrooms of the Eternal City, in one of the most fateful periods in her history.

Nicholas Nicastro (Empire of Ashes, The Isle of Stone, Hell’s Half-Acre) writes the kind of vivid, deeply immersive historical fiction that brings the past to unforgettable life. In The River Through Rome, he tells a story that is both faithful to its time, and hauntingly presages our own. 

“This historical novel gives readers a view of ancient Rome from the rare perspective of a good man just trying to do an honest job...Nicastro is an experienced and accomplished writer and often a prose poet in his descriptions of Nonius and Amaris: 'If his life was a stem, she was the rose,’ and ‘Trapped there, between the Scylla of oblivion and the Charybdis of inconsequence he was powerless to go on.’ This is a Rome falling fast from greatness, though oblivious to the descent. The Republic is dead; Octavian will soon style himself ‘Augustus,’ a god. Sycophancy and cynicism are the orders of the day. The captivating book does, in fact, provide an excellent slice of history...An intriguing, well-researched, and well-told tale of ancient Rome.” (Kirkus Reviews)

"Nicholas Nicastro has a gift; the ability to look past the deeds of the great and powerful to find the beating heart of Antiquity. Rome might be the legacy of Caesar and Augustus, but it was built by men like Lucius Nonius Donatus -- working men whose passions and perils, loves and losses, have remained unchanged for over 2000 years. And this is Nicastro at his absolute finest: breathing life and humanity into the lifeless marble and concrete of ancient Rome. Fans of Robert Harris and Colleen McCullough, take note!" (Scott Oden, author of Men of Bronze and Memnon)

©2021 Nicholas Nicastro (P)2021 Nicholas Nicastro

What listeners say about The River Through Rome

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  • Overall
    3 out of 5 stars
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    3 out of 5 stars

Started off good but then got predictable

The first half of this story was pretty good. There’s lots of great details that put me right in the middle of ancient Rome. From what they ate, to the lay out of the city, tangling up in the politics, and giving us a glimpse behind the bedroom curtains. I also liked the character development too. Nonius has a soft heart and yet he’s tapped to head water project. It’s a challenge for him to hold onto the position.

The second half of the story wasn’t nearly as engaging. The plot gets hijacked by a predictable romance. Also, the story becomes overly dependent on sex to keep the pages turning. I don’t mind sex in my books but I do like such scenes to add to the plot, character development, or depth of setting. Much of those scenes in this book didn’t do that and they were so numerous I actually got bored with them.

The ladies are sex objects/love interests for the most part, though Nonius does have an overbearing mother. Amaris has the most page time and most of it is in bed. First, she’s the slave and lover of a powerful senator but in a fit of anger and sadness she flees to Nonius. This creates a lot of strife and leads to one of the few action scenes. Without giving away spoilers, there’s a point where Amaris seriously considers what she would do with her life if it was her own and she comes up with sex worker. Sigh… This book is already very limited on showing what Roman women could and did do during those times, so falling back on prostitution seemed trite.

In short, great set up, boring conclusion. 3/5 stars.

The Narration: Melanie Crawley was not the best choice for this book. First, nearly all the time is spent in the head of one man or another, so the choice of female narrator didn’t really match up with the main characters of the book. Second, Crawley’s male voices all need more masculinity and some of her attempted male voices were rather cartoony. That said, she did have a variety of voices so it was easy to keep all characters separate. There were times Crawley fell into a bit of a monotone. In fact, my husband walked in while I was listening and wanted to know why a bored schoolmarm was reading a sex scene. The pacing was good and there were no tech issues with the recording. 3/5 stars.

I received a free copy of this book. My opinions are 100% my own.

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"The pavement of Rome was like living skin."

"The pavement of Rome was like living skin". Found myself transported into and surprisingly engaged with an ancient Roman waterworks project and its players! Nonius the engineer, is tasked with placing a sculptural waterworks project through a cluttered seamy part of town. But the digging, pipes and precious water introduce an ecosystem of well-developed, fun Roman characters. "Opening up a street in Rome was like tearing open a scab."

Initially, the tension revolves around the mysterious watery engineering job that's extremely well-paid. Grippers and Senators suddenly appear onto the landscape. Then an enigmatic and magnetic young girl named Amaris - is she slave? free? - enters the stage, like a lever that upends the blocks of established power structures and rigid roles.

Nicastro confidently sets the historical and, if needed, philosophical setting for each scene with a light quick hand. He follows with well-researched external details that give smell of almonds on the food and feel of stone and concrete. The details don't bog down into didactic heaviness. His characters thoughts, feeling, and choices flow through the elaborate pipelines of Roman social stratification - slaves, servants, shopkeepers, Senators, Grippers. Nicolas keeps the story flowing.

I'm a student of history and rarely a consumer of historical fiction. Mostly I enjoy science fiction and magical realism. I was a little shocked at the detail of a few scenes of steamy intimacy and violence, but that's a personal reaction. The narrator is solid, with a pleasing tone. I enjoyed listening to it at a faster pace (1.2-1.4x), which is the case for almost all of my audiobooks. Would I ever relisten to it? Absolutely


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Love and engineering in Rome’s underbelly

I’ve been hoping Nicastro would write a novel set in ancient Rome since I first read Empire of Ashes. The River Through Rome is every bit as lively and inventive as his Greek novels but goes in a very different direction. Instead of focusing on major historical figures and great events, this novel considers the lives of the distinctly non-elite Amaris and the talented but struggling engineer who falls for her. As usual, Nicastro has done his research. His depiction of Rome in the 30s BC, as the Romans transitioned from Republic to Imperial rule, rings true. There’s crime, dirt, and despair, of course, but also lighter moments as we get to know some of the inhabitants of an ordinary neighborhood. Potential readers should be aware that Nicastro does not shy away from the cruel realities of Roman slavery. What most impressed me, however, was how he imagines the inner life of a woman trapped in a profoundly patriarchal world. While there are some street battles, fundamentally this is a novel about relationships. Last but not least Melanie Crawley provides excellent narration