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Thursday, August 4, 2011

Household Gods - Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove

Nicole Gunther-Perrin is a thoroughly modern woman. A recently divorced mother of two small children who’s also a lawyer, her life is full of issues – she’s still angry with her ex-husband, the kid’s daycare provider gives her a one day notice that she needs to move back to Mexico, and she’s just been passed over for a partnership at the firm more or less because she refuses to sleep her way to the top.

On her honeymoon in Europe, Nicole had bought what she thought was a reproduction of a Roman plaque of the gods Liber and Libera, and it still sits on her bedside table. After this day from hell, she makes a simple wish to the gods, and in honor of their first worshiper in more than a thousand years, they grant her wish – to go back to their time, where Nicole is convinced life must be simpler. And so it is that Nicole wakes up the next morning in the body of a woman named Umma, a widowed tavern keeper in the Roman city of Carnuntum. Nicole quickly finds that life is just as complex in ancient Rome as in modern L.A.

The day to day life detail in this book is excellent – you can practically smell and feel the world that Nicole is thrust into. There’s the tavern, the fuller across the street, the bath house, and Umma’s friends and neighbors. I enjoyed that part of the story immensely.

What I sometimes didn’t enjoy as much was Nicole. She brought a lot of baggage from our time into the past. I’m not saying that no one would do that (her reaction when she realizes that everyone around her, and she herself is crawling with lice, is right about what I would have done), but she makes some pretty rash decisions based on her contemporary beliefs that were fairly stupid. I don’t want to say she shouldn’t have made those decisions, but I’d like to think a supposedly well educated woman would at least try to get some context before she went blundering into a society she does not at all understand. But that’s just me.

This is a really excellent book. I’d highly recommend it to anyone interested in Roman history.

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