NESFA Members' Reviews

coverHousehold Gods

by Judith Tarr and Harry Turtledove

A book review by Mark L. Olson

Tor, 1999, 508 pp, $27.95.

Tarr and Turtledove have been turning out historical novels and historical fantasies for years, and I guess it's no surprise that they finally collaborated on a book. And what a book!

Nicole Gunther-Perrin, a youngish LA lawyer, a divorced single mother of two little kids, is having a really bad week. Her ex-husband (who ran off with a floozie) is far behind on the child support. She's passed over for partner at her law firm for no good reason. Her children's day care center suddenly closes. And she's been caught in horrendous traffic jams.

In her fantasies, she thinks about a simpler time and makes a wish to a statue of a Roman god that she could go back to the simple, happy days when the statue was made.

She wakes up the next morning smelling the incredible stench of a Roman city and speaking Latin. She's as ignorant of history as most people, but soon figures out that she's living in a time after Julius Caesar and before the Fall of the Roman Empire. Beyond that…who knows?

She's a middle class widow with two kids - she owns a lunchroom and tavern in a town in the Roman province of Pannonia. And she owns a slave girl. Now this is a real problem for 90s liberal Nicole. At times it's even worse than the stench and the lice. And did I mention that she doesn't believe in drinking alcohol?

The lice she learns to live with - having no other choice. The slave she frees - and then employs - at considerable cost to herself and against her brother's strong protests. She learns to appreciate wine after getting really sick from the water.

This sounds like it's a stupid-liberal-learns-how-good-she-has-it book, and I suppose it is, a bit. But it's also a novel of ordinary life in a very strange place (which was still better than most of the world in its day) with interesting people and events. And when Nicole finally finds her way back to LA, she's learned enough to force her ex-husband to pay up, and to force her law firm to recognize her talents and promote her.

An excellent book - the past is a different country, and Tarr and Turtledove make very good tour guides.

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