Imagine the timeline of history, stretched out before you. Now imagine that you can reach into that timeline, and grab a chunk of it, say roughly around 44 BCE to 30 BCE. Twist and pull that chunk apart, tease out people, events, landscapes, cultural beliefs, battles, outcomes. Now add in personalities, conversations, conflicts, passion, motivations, and a huge dose of supernatural. Add one expert researcher as author and a fabulously illustrated cover. Do all of the above right, and you've got Shards of Heaven in your hands.
Full disclaimer here: Michael Livingston is a friend. When I heard he had written a novel, I think I actually squealed in delight. (I know I did at least two "happy dances" when I received an ARC, even before getting it into my home.) This is a guy who, when I hear him talk at various conventions, has made this long-ago history major yearn to return to the classroom and explore dusty volumes deep in the stacks of university libraries. The literary lover in me sits in awe listening to talks about Tolkien, or hearing Chaucer or Beowulf in Old English.
Shards of Heaven centers primarily on the last days of Antony and Cleopatra, and their battle for power over Julius Caesar's legacy with Octavian, Caesar's nephew and adopted son. Livingston has reimagined the history, and created a story that weaves through the actual known facts, providing different causes and venues, never altering the history as we know it.
Juba, another adopted son of Caesar, has come into possession of an artifact that is purported to be the Trident of Poseidon, maybe even the very staff of Moses which parted the Red Sea. Juba has learned there are other artifacts, Shards of Heaven, which are said to have the power of the Gods, or maybe the One God, over elements of our world, and is on a quest to find them. Though he is under the command of Octavian, he also seeks revenge for his father, the slain King of Numidia.
As he seeks other Shards of Heaven, there are those in the camp of Antony and Cleopatra who are determined to keep other Shards out of the hands of the enemy. Caesarion, Caesar's only living son, whose mother is Cleopatra, and trusted scholars and centurions, struggle to keep the few magical treasures hidden in Alexandria safe. And Selene, the young daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony is determined to be part of that effort.
While reading this, I did shriek and swear at the author, but not for my usual reasons of bad writing or poor plot line. I believe my exact words were, "Michael, if you make me care for these people and then kill them off, I'll never invite you for martinis again!" To be honest, as I know history is unchanged in this version of the tale, I knew some folks would die. Indeed, a few of my favorite characters will not make it to the next book. But Michael, you're safe. You told a good tale, created characters I could care about, described battles I could visualize. And true to your professorial leaning, you taught me as well. I'm ready for Book II.
Tags: advanced-reader-copy, first-novel-or-book, great-cover, made-me-look-something-up, met-the-author, part-start-of-a-series, read-in-2015, thought-provoking, will-look-for-more-by-this-author, alternate-history
Edited to add for anyone wanting to know where to pre-order (which is HUGE for a first-time novelist), it is on Amazon, B&N, and pretty much any major book outlet. Michael has a number of direct links on his page: http://www.michaellivingston.com/fiction/novels/the-shards-of-heaven/