Mary Ann Bernal
Whispering Legends Press (2021)
Reviewed by Chelsy Scherba for Reader Views (10/2021)
“Forgiving Nero” by Mary Ann Bernal is a fictional account of the life of Nero, Emperor of Rome. As a Praetorian Guard, Traian has looked after Nero ever since he was a small child, protecting him from assassins and treating him like a son. Vena, a hostage to the current Emperor Claudius, and a Christian hiding her faith, is the woman Nero calls “mother.” When Nero finds himself on the Roman throne, he rejects the council of those he once held dear and discovers his newfound power has given him the status of a god. With only treachery and corruption surrounding him, Nero’s former friends and allies can only watch his spiraling descent into debauchery and evil.
When reading historical fiction, I like to learn a lot about the time period and feel immersed in the era. Happily, this book achieves both of those goals. The author brings to life a vast array of characters and events that happened in the life of Nero. Since Nero was the template for the coming antichrist, I found it very interesting to learn more about the person Nero was both during and prior to his role in sentencing Christians to horrific deaths, including that of Paul the apostle.
The writing flows effortlessly between the viewpoints of each of the characters, telling a clear narrative that is easy to follow and rather difficult to put down. At almost 300 pages, it usually takes me over a week to read a book of that length, but I finished this book in about 3 1/2 days. This is a testament to the author’s narrative style and ability to hold my interest. I also found it very interesting to discover how Vena was able to conceal her faith while worshiping Jesus Christ in secret amongst Paul the apostle and her Christian brethren. Nero’s persecution of the Christians was of particular interest to me, and a prevalent subplot of the story as Vena, Acte (Nero’s childhood friend and slave), and Traian grapple with this new religious faith.
I also really enjoyed how the author portrayed Emperor Claudius and the manipulative women in his life. Agrippina was particularly intriguing as to the lengths she would go to get her son Nero on the throne. Claudius’s daughter, Octavia, was a tragic pawn, and Poppaea emerges to challenge Agrippina for control of Emperor Nero. Playing out much like the Greek tragedies Nero enjoyed acting in, his life and the lives of those surrounding him were full of death, mistrust, agony, cruelty, and murder.
If you love Roman history, this book should delight you. Although Nero’s and his family’s wickedness is not sugarcoated, it is not described in a way that is lewd or gratifying. I still recommend this book to adults only, but there was nothing I found too difficult to read, overly explicit, or offensive. The author does an excellent job remaining neutral and presenting each viewpoint factually and without bias. Therefore, regardless of your personal beliefs, you should be able to enjoy this book and make your own conclusions without feeling led to view Nero one way or the other.