The Seven Wonders - Steven Saylor

THE SEVEN WONDERS by Steven Saylor, is a prequel to the series of historical Crime fiction, Roma Sub Rosa, featuring his Roman private Eye, Gordianus. Set in around 110 B.C. this novel is set in a time when Gordianus had just attended manhood, at the age of 18. On becoming a man, as decreed by law he sets sail with Antipator of Sidon, who is travelling incognito for reason best known to himself (which eventually gets revealed in the last chapter). The novel set in a format of a collection of short stories sees Gordianus visiting the seven wonders of the Ancient worlds with Antipator. Every city he steps in adds a new chapter to his life, as well as bringing a new problem for him to solve, thereby adding to his experience which would make him a trained Finder in the coming days.

 

One thing that struck me while reading this book was that though being marketed as a mystery, this one comes out more strongly as a travelogue. With an undercurrent of mystery present in every chapter. Steven Saylor was himself a student of history, who wanted to write a literary fiction based on Rome, which by chance and good luck of the readers got transformed into a series of crime novel. So, it doesnt comes as a wonder that the descriptions of the places which remain till date(only the great Pyramid), and the ones which were present during the days of Antipator, not to forget those which werent there in 110 B.C. as well ( the Hanging Gardens) were such vivid and wonderful that it overshadows the crime solving part, thereby turning this into a very enjoyable account of the travels among the ancient Seven Wonders.

 

But what is so admirable, also takes away the shine from Gordianus, the protagonist. The vivid imagery created through words about the places visited, pushes Gordianus to a side character. Though enjoyable as a protagonist, with every chapter springing a new lesson in form of a woman, man or a crime, he never becomes as powerful a character as say Brother Cadfael or Marcus Falco. Throughout the book he remains in the shadow of either the travelogue or his master Antipator. Antipator of Sidon, though a real human being who lived, is presented here as the teacher of Gordianus. This character is much more vivid though the presence he gets in the book is less than his student. Travelling incognito he creates an aura around him with his wisdom and poetry. Even when his reason for change of name is revealed, one cannot stop from feeling sorry for him, and for Gordianus as well.

 

A well written book, which if read with an open mind stating that this should be read as something more than just a mystery novel, will be enjoyed by all.