Rubies of the Viper by Martha Marks
I read it as an: ARC
Source: Helen Hollick/Discovering Diamonds
Length: 368 pp
Publisher: Martha’s Art
Theodosia Varro had been living in the slums of Rome when her fortune changed. Upon the murder of her brother, Gaius, she became the sole heir to her father’s vast fortune. She moves back home to her childhood villa north of Rome, determined to make a new life of wealth and ease for herself. Marriage is nowhere near the top of her list of things to do, though as one of the most eligible young women in the Empire, Theodosia suddenly finds herself courted by many suitors. The prime candidates for her affections are Otho, an ambitious politician and Gaius’s best friend, and Titus, the son of her father’s best friend Vespasian. Otho tries to help the innocent and somewhat naive Theodosia understand that her slaves may not have her best interests at heart, that they may in fact have killed her brother. Titus is barely out of his boyhood, just starting out on his military career, more a friend than a lover at this point. Theodosia is torn as to which man she wants to marry more, and soon she has to discover for herself whom among her servants she can trust – her steward Alexander, her childhood friend Stefan, her maid Lucilla? Is Otho correct that they are conspiring to kill her, as he’s convinced they killed Gaius? Or is something darker at work in the alleys of ancient Rome?
Marks’s novel was a fast read, full of twists and dark plots and some heavy topics. I was quickly drawn into Theodosia’s world and her struggle to navigate the treacherous waters that were Rome, so dangerous for a single woman. The characters are complex and have deep motivations for their actions. As I learned more about her brother and his actions, the happier I got that someone did him in. He was a despicable human being. The question grew, though, of whether one of Theodosia’s servants had done the job and was now putting her in danger, or if someone else was to blame. The tension mounts nicely throughout the book, and I felt genuine concern for her when one person reveals the true depth of their vileness, costing Theodosia all she had so suddenly gained.
There were a couple things I think were anachronistic. There were many references to the glass windows at Theodosia’s villa, for example. I am a medievalist, not a Roman historian, but I believe even the very richest Romans had a hard time affording glass windows. According to this article, glass windows were in use at the time this novel was set, though mostly in bathhouses. So I suppose it isn’t entirely impossible that Theodosia’s villa had glass windows, but it still seems a little out of place. I also had to give a bit of a side-eye to the way Theodosia treated her servants. She was quite progressive, I think, for her time. Granted, her attitude was explained by her unusual childhood and living conditions after her father’s death, but it was still perhaps a bit a stretch. None of these minor quibbles prevented me from thoroughly enjoying the book, though.
This was a great read with many enjoyable characters (or deplorable characters, as appropriate) and a good deal of vivid historical detail. I am eager to read the sequel, The Viper Amulet.
You can read the official review at DDRevs: https://discoveringdiamonds.blogspot.com/