Everyone knows the story of Pompeii (except my fiancee). Mount Vesuvius erupts, and the town is destroyed, and preserved under layers of ash for centuries. Robert Harris’ book follows a young engineer working on the aqueducts a few days before the start of the eruption. The book is exciting and the descriptions of the eruption are fantastic. It was a really enjoyable read, and one that I highly recommend.

From: Randomhouse.com

The story follows Marcus Attlius Primus, a young engineer (known as an aquarius) who is transferred to the town of Misenum to run the Aqua Augusta aqueduct after the disappearance of the previous aquarius, Exomnius.

It quickly becomes apparent that something is going wrong with the aqueduct, as the water starts to fail all along its length. So, a few days before the eruption, Attlius sets out to Pompeii to fix it. As well as the pressure of fixing the aqueduct before the people of Misenum run out of water, Attlius also trys to uncover what happened to his predecessor, who apparently just wandered off one day. Then of course, there’s the eruption. The descriptions of the eruption are amazing, and Harris makes you understand why people might have thought the entire world was coming to an end. Harris also makes you care about the Attlius and the other characters, so that you immediately fear for them, as the reader of course knows what’s going to happen to Pompeii.

The other stories, of the corruption in Pompeii, the missing aquarius and the repair of the aqueduct, are also interesting and exciting. The descriptions of the aqueducts and the towns are detailed and vivid. You also get a sense of the dreams and plans of the characters and town of Pompeii, which makes its imminent destruction all the more compelling. From reading the acknowledgments at the back of the book, it seems like Harris did a lot of research for this book, and it shows in the quality of the descriptions. Having studied a little roman history in many school years ago, I also liked meeting Pliny (Elder and Younger).

Overall, I really enjoyed this book. It’s tense and exciting, I liked the characters, the side-plots were interesting, and once again, the description of the eruption is amazing. It’s not that long, and it’s pretty fast-paced, so if you have the chance, I recommend giving it a go.