A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii by novelist and historian Steven Saylor follows the incredible story of the destruction of Pompeii on August 24, 79 AD. On that day, a massive and powerful volcano in Italy known as Mount Vesuvius erupted with a catastrophic force, sending lava and ash cascading through the city of Pompeii. Saylor’s novel brings this caldera of destruction to life in vivid detail, depicting how a variety of Roman, Greek and Jewish people fought to survive the all-encompassing destruction of the volcano and its powerful forces. Through Saylor’s voice and storytelling, readers have the opportunity to experience this tragic moment in history as it would have unfolded.
The novel is set in Pompeii, the prosperous Roman city just southeast of the Bay of Naples. This bustling town could have housed over 11,000 inhabitants and its citizens included merchants, sailors, slaves, freedmen and the wealthy elite. On the fateful day when Vesuvius erupted, many of the inhabitants of the city, although warned of its imminent doom, remained in their homes. With the coming darkness, fear and despair held the faint hope of survival until the morning when the destruction of the city was complete.
Saylor is a respected and well-read historian which ensures the accuracy of the details and events in the novel. He is committed to bringing history to life through his words, creating a fully immersive and tangible experience for the reader. Through Saylor’s comprehensive research, readers gain a unique insight into the lives of the inhabitants of Pompeii and the sense of impending destruction they must have felt in the moments leading up to the volcano’s eruption.
The novel follows the journeys of a range of protagonists, all connected through the destruction of Pompeii. Each individual is allocated a chapter which follows their movements during the day, giving readers a unique insight into each character’s particular plight. Among them are Zoe and her son Lysander, a slave from Syria; Telesinos, a jeweller; and Muleos, a merchant. As the day progresses and the eruption nears, the desperation of their situations intensifies, and readers can’t help but grow attached to each character’s tragic experience with the breaking of Vesuvius.
Style and Language
Saylor’s captivating language provides readers with an intricate and descriptive experience of the events of the night. From the crashing of the waves to the smell of smoke in the air, the text is saturated with sensory details which create an immersive experience. He avoids an overused chronology of events, instead layering flashbacks and non-sequiturs to provide different perspectives on the same topic. With its emotive language and descriptions of fear and confusion, Saylor successfully captures the devastating impact of a moment in history.
Saylor’s writing explores the themes of courage, class struggles and destitution. With a focus on A Day of Fire as a theme, the fate of the inhabitants of Pompeii is punctuated with a admiration of resilience, loyalty and survival. In his writing, Saylor also draws on themes of community and how people come together to protect, comfort and console one another in the face of tragedy. It is this dedication to moulding his work around the plight of his characters that allows readers to truly sympathise with the desperate situations they find themselves in.
A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii has been widely acclaimed with glowing reviews from a range of distinguished sources.The New York Times has praised the book as ‘a vivid spectacle, unfolding with agonizing suspense’ whilst the Guardian has declared it ‘an epic story, told through the eyes of extraordinary survivors.’ With such high praise, it is easy to see why Saylor’s novel continues to be an engaging and captivating look at the tragic destruction of Pompeii.
A Day of Fire is a captivating story supported by the factual accuracy of Saylor’s writing. He draws on data and findings from historians, archaeologists and geologists to create an exquisite and believable narrative. Saylor is careful to differentiate truth from speculation, providing readers with factual historical insights of a world long past. Although an understanding of Roman history may enrich the reading experience, the book is written in a way that is both accessible and informative for readers of all backgrounds.
The Eruption of Vesuvius
Saylor captures the immense power of the eruption in the text, describing the physical destruction it left in its wake. In the days after the eruption, Pompeii and the neighboring town of Herculaneum were entombed under ash, lava and pumice, not to be seen again for thousands of years. It is Saylor’s description of this disaster and the fear it unleashed on the city that is truly gripping. The telling of the destruction, death and heart-wrenching loneliness is one that lingers long after the last page is finished.
A Day of Fire also delves into the aftermath of the eruption, exploring the emotions of the characters in the wake of its destruction. Saylor’s novel illustrates how localised destruction of this nature can take its toll on survivors, their mental and physical health, and their interaction with the world. This is an aspect of the book which truly drives home the full impact of destruction and the ensuing destruction of one’s world.
Steven Saylor’s A Day of Fire: A Novel of Pompeii is a unique way to experience one of the greatest destruction of the ancient world. From an incredibly accurate and detailed telling of events to emotive language and themes of courage and compassion, Saylor’s novel is a must read for those wanting to truly explore the day-long destruction of Pompeii.