Review by Jeffery Smith:
Dante, a prepubescent Nobel at the birth of the Roman Republic, must grow up fast. War with neighboring nations and the Etruscans has reached the villas of his neighbors. Not only must Dante lead adults twice his age, he must also make life-and-death decisions that are impossible for leaders of any age to make, such as how to deal with captives.
A fan of historical fiction would have to read reams of the literature to find a story as intimate as this one. The author creates the daily life of Dante and its wealth of significant detail pulls the reader right in. Plus the emotional life of Dante makes him entirely credible, despite having to perform on the adult stage.
Certain topics give one much to think about. How close, how loving can a child feel toward a slave? How ordinary can sex be between childhood friends? How accepting can people be toward frequent, hands-on killing? The emotional dimension made the novel feel foreign yet somewhat true to life at the same time. It was a combination I found irresistible.
The breadth and depth of the main character and the danger that he and his loved ones find themselves in kept me intrigued throughout the entire story. I recommend Volume One to all fans of historical fiction and even fiction in general. For my taste, I give Grapes of Rome five stars.