The Shards of Heaven – Michael Livingston

About the Book

The beginning of an epic historical fantasy that rocks the foundations of the ancient world

Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated on the senate floor, and the glory that is Rome has been torn in two. Octavian, Caesar’s ambitious great-nephew and adopted son, vies with Marc Antony and Cleopatra for control of Caesar’s legacy. As civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may shape the course of history.

Juba, Numidian prince and adopted brother of Octavian, has embarked on a ruthless quest for the Shards of Heaven, lost treasures said to possess the very power of the gods—or the one God. Driven by vengeance, Juba has already attained the fabled Trident of Poseidon, which may also be the staff once wielded by Moses. Now he will stop at nothing to obtain the other Shards, even if it means burning the entire world to the ground.

Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.

The Shards of Heaven reveals the hidden magic behind the history we know, and commences a war greater than any mere mortal battle.

416 pages (hardcover)
Published on November 24, 2015
Published by Tor
Author’s webpage
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This book was sent by the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I read Shards of Heaven because I was arranging my books and I forgot I had it (yeah, sorry, that happens when you have like forty thousand books). I was in the mood for something a bit different, intense, and memorable, and hot damn did this fit the bill.

Shards of Heaven is a fantastic alternative history with a very minimalistic, but realistic magic system and full of information and plenty of stress, strain, and tension. This book also has the added benefit of being full of infamous historical figures who were all superbly researched and brought to life in a surprisingly vibrant way.

So, Shards of Heaven. What do you need to know about it.

This book takes place during the war between Antony and Octavian, when they were fighting a civil war over territory, and rights to various parts and places in Rome. Antony is, of course, with Cleopatra, and they are living in Alexandria with their children. On the other side we have Octavian, who seems to be friendly and personable at first, but as you get to know him you realize this dude has a mean streak that is a mile wide.

Much of this book switches between both sides of the battle, and as the book progresses there are some other surprise figures thrown in, like Selene, the only daughter of Antony and Cleopatra, and Juba, the adopted son of Julius Caesar. Each of these characters adds a lot of depth and interesting detail to the story, but perhaps what interested me the most is how none of these characters really was who they appeared to be. Juba, for example, has an interesting and layered history that has given him some very powerful feelings about Caesar, and Rome in general. Selene, on the other hand, is a girl growing into a woman, and is headstrong and incredibly intelligent and ends up sort of being a powerhouse of activity in the novel, which I didn’t really expect and ended up seriously enjoying.

That’s sort of my clunky way of alluding to what I loved about this novel. It’s so textured and layered. Things seem pretty simple on the surface – you have two very powerful men vying for the Roman Empire. That’s pretty easy to cut out and understand. It’s a civil war, and an infamous one at that. However, you start throwing in some incredibly realistic, shockingly textured characters, each with their own drives and understandings, and then some magic items, and a few twists on Good Ol’ Religion, and you have an interesting stew that is sure to keep you hooked.

The Shards of Heaven really blew me away. I couldn’t really put it down. It’s full of tension, packed with surprises, and brought a new understanding and vision to an absolutely fascinating period of history. This book didn’t only surprise me, it also educated me a bit. In fact, I spent a ridiculous amount of time after reading this novel researching this period of history just because this book made me want to learn.

I think that this is how the best myths start. Livingston took a story most people are passingly familiar with, and packed it full of dynamic, memorable characters, some low-key but powerful magic, a new twist on religion, and managed to make it surprising even though we all know how it ends. I was hooked. Addicted. Fascinated. I couldn’t get enough of it. And somehow, surprisingly enough, Livingston had me reexamining what I knew about this war, this period of Roman history, and imagining what it had been like. He made these historical figures absolutely jump off the page at me. They weren’t just names anymore, but people, and this wasn’t something that happened once, but it was happening right now.

I can boil down this long, winding review by saying The Shards of Heaven was an amazing book, and I highly, highly recommend it for fans of alternative history.

5/5 stars

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