Gripping historical fiction: My review of "City on Fire" by Tracy L. Higley

City on Fire : A Novel of Pompeii, Tracy L. Higley
At the base of Mount Vesuvius lies the coastal town of Pompeii, a city churning with political unrest and filled with a people who embrace all that Rome has to offer. Cato has recently moved to Pompeii after giving up on ever changing the corrupt political landscape of Rome. Along with his mother and sister, he has come to Pompeii for a fresh start, intent on embracing the life of a vineyard owner. He soon meets another newcomer to Pompeii, a young gladiator training to fight. However, the gladiator is guarding a deadly secret, that she's a runaway Jewish slave girl named Ariella. Despite his intentions, Cato soon finds himself fighting the political corruption in Pompeii, while Ariella finds herself fighting for a fame that she hopes will lead to her freedom. Both soon find themselves fighting for their lives and those whom they love.
"City On Fire" is a gripping read, bringing to life the historical city of Pompeii in such a vivid way that I felt like I was watching the scenes play across my mind. It was chilling to observe the Roman customs, of a people devoted to worshipping false gods while satisfying every sort of lust imaginable. The characters of Ariella and Cato are both utterly fascinating, Cato as he encounters corruption and Ariella as she struggles to survive in a harsh world.  Their journey to discover the truth of Jesus is a beautiful one to observe, and I marvelled at Higley's ability to write a suspenseful novel that also provides a clear gospel message. The novel is well-written and moves along very well, with nary a dull moment to be found. The reader may have to suspend their belief somewhat at the idea of a young woman being able to truly disguise her gender among 100 male gladiators. But the story itself is simply absorbing, and the final chapters had me racing through the pages as the author brings to life the eruption of Vesuvius and the end of Pompeii.
I thoroughly enjoyed "City on Fire", and continue to consider Higley to be one of the best historical authors in the Christian marketplace. I award this book 4.5 out of 5 stars.
Book has been provided courtesy of the publisher and the Booksneeze program, for the purposes of this unbiased review.