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Barbara Hambly (1951 - )

Search the Seven Hills
Ballantine, 1983


Although Search the Seven Hills is billed as "an historical adventure novel set in ancient Rome," this story is actually a mystery. The unlikely "detective" is a young philosopher, Marcus Silanus, whose beloved Tullia Varia is kidnapped only heartbeats after she has informed him that her father is forcing her to marry another man. Did the Christians do it, as most people suspect? Or are the kidnappers really someone else? Marcus races against time to solve the crime and recover Tullia before her father, the city prefect, can return and launch a bloody campaign of vengeance against the Christians. A centurion of the Praetorian guard and a retired legate help the philosopher in his efforts to find the woman he loves. This rousing, action-filled story is set in 116 C.E. in Trajan's Rome. Hambly claims in her author's note at the end to be paying little attention to historical accuracy, but she is being far too modest. Her research is excellent. She is careful to use period names for locations. She pays attention to what has and has not been built. She seems to have read Jérôme Carcopino's Daily Life in Ancient Rome (Yale University Press, 1940) or some similar work or works because her grasp of the rhythms and culture of daily life in 116 C.E. is superb. A map at the front of the book gives the layout of Rome in 116 C.E. to help the reader follow Marcus on his adventures as he searches the entire city, above and below ground, for Tullia. Each chapter also begins with a quote from an ancient author that helps set the tone for that chapter and that provides the reader with additional information about how the Romans thought about various subjects at the time. You do not need to be an expert on ancient Rome to enjoy Hambly's well-told story. She describes everything thoroughly and explains every detail so that anyone can understand the setting, characters and history without the need for a glossary or other supplements. The characters are fascinating, well developed and three-dimensional. All in all, Search the Seven Hills is a splendid work by a master storyteller. - Linda A. Malcor 10/99

- Linda A. Malcor, 10/1/1999

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