The Dead Virgins
by Kevin Ashman
A review by Linda Root
Please see below for giveaway details!
Please see below for giveaway details!
Kevin (K.M.) Ashman combines his skill as a historical novelist with his ability as a natural storyteller in his well-constructed, two-plotted tale The Dead Virgins. He also builds enough interest in his contemporary characters India and Brandon to lure us to the sequel which is now high on my “to be read” list. With a strong devotion to historical accuracy in my own books, I applaud Ashman’s research into Nero’s Rome and the highly interesting subject of the Vestal Virgins, whose exact role in Roman culture remains enigmatic. I did cringe a bit at the use of the term “okay “ coming from the lips of Romans of the first century A.D. Also, because my own novels are set in Reneaissance and Early Modern Scotland, I winced at the use of popular modern swear words which rank among the unique contributions of 15th and 16th century Scots to modern English vocabulary. There were Roman versions of all three words, fuquo, for example. That Ashman uses the modern Scots version is a matter of creative license, and not something that substantially detracts from the book to anyone but a Latin scholar. Perfectionists might suggest an additional line edit, but the occasional glitches occurring for the most part at the beginning of the story are easily overlooked by anyone who is not reading with a blue pencil stuck behind the ear.
It is notable that The Dead Virgins is presented with a title and cover true to the story. Perhaps I am being excessivly analytical, but to me, the title The Dead Virgins communicates a subtle and enticing hint of the historical which would not be present had the book been entitled Dead Virgins, and which provides a clue that Ashman’s dead virgins are going to be special.
There are two timelines to this novel – one occuring in Britain in 2010 and the other, in Rome and Roman Britannia during Nero’s reign. Ashman treats the logistic challenges especially well. The reader experiences no confusion in knowing into which storyline he or she has been deposited when there is a change in point of view and setting. Another notable feature of Ashman’s work and this book especially is that it is not overly populated with ancillary characters who do not move the plot ahead. The principal Roman characters-- the Vestal Rubria, the centurion and the female slave are believable and I was delighted with Ashman’s development of a love interest that satisfies all three.
In the part of the tale set in modern times, the co-protagonists Brandon and India are at first glance somewhat stereotypical, he being the undercover operative seeking to recover a missing child, and she being the researcher who is drawn to help him because of the possible existence of an important first century artifact. Ashman saves them from becoming clones of other writers who use similar combinations of female scholar and male strongman by keeping their relationship professional and their approaches to the issues consistent with their individual biographies. I would have liked to have seen a different resolution of the role of the taxi driver but the one Ashman chooses is the more realistic. He also resists giving superhuman strengths or flawless morals to his heroes. I am less enchanted by the character India Sommers, but encouraged that Ashman has not written her as if she were a runway model with a Ph.D.
As someone who has worked in the past with traumatized childen, I appreciated the manner in which Ashman brings the kidnapped minister’s niece into the story without overdoing it. Missing children seem to sell books, but this particular storyline could have been ruined by a third subplot. All in all, I will be reading the sequels based on the teaser at the end of the first book in the series, as well as my curioisity as to where India Sommers and Brandon Walker are going to take us in The Treasures of Suleiman.
The author is also graciously offering a free copy of The Dead Virgins to one lucky winner! To get your name in the hat for the drawing, simply comment below. Facebook users may also comment here.
Kevin Ashman’s books can be found on Amazon.
Linda Root is the author of the five books of the Queen of Scots Suite, including 1603: The Queen’s Revenge, coming in April 2014.