That's the inviting premise of AD 62: POMPEII, Rebecca East's iUniverse-published novel. Miranda, shy, undersized scholarly type with "pre-Raphaelite hair," volunteers for an experiment to send her back 2000 years into the past. When the device implanted in her arm fails, the experiment ends, and real life takes over. Sold into slavery, Miranda must make her way in the household of one Marcus Tullius, his wife Holconia, and their 13-year old daughter.
Most of the time I cannot stand novels about ancient Rome. The writing may be engaging, but the research is full of howlers. POMPEII is just the opposite-- and provides insight not only into the ancient world, but into the choices a novelist makes.
The author's research is deep, and she shares it. Miranda's narration is full of expansion and explanation of what she sees, at the expense of snappy dialogue or a driving plotline-- or even tight editing. Here's a small example of Miranda's observations:
I turned away from the forum in search of the Temple of Isis, a popular religion in this city...The Isis cult had become extremely popular among Romans, particularly among women, and I was curious about it... Unlike many of the earlier Roman gods, who were based on a mixture of mostly Etruscan and Greek deities, Isis was an Egyptian goddess. She offered the promise of eternal life; her cult offered hope to the hopeless.
This doesn't float everyone's boat. One Amazon.com reviewer was "sorely tempted to toss it against a wall."
Lots more people at Amazon liked it than didn't, however, and that may be expressly because of the author's lack of writerly varnish. Miranda's narrative reads like what it would truly be if someone like her-- a careful, emotionally-guarded bookworm-- went back in time. In this way the book eerily fits the heroine, even though it may not have the requisite crucifixions per capita to please a New York agent.
Personally, I was happy to see a novel on ancient Rome where the research tallied.
If you're interested, the author offers a generous 6 chapters free in .pdf format, so you don't have to buy unless you like it.
Click. You will learn something-- about ancient Rome, and about the challenges of crafting fiction.
Photo: Detail of a fresco from the Temple of Isis, Pompeii. Courtesy vroma.org