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Guest Post: Five Things in Museums in THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN
By Michael Livingston
Because THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN is a historical fantasy set during the rise of the Roman Empire, I have worked hard to get the facts right — or at least as right as they can be given the fantastical elements in the plot, like a working Trident of Poseidon.
One result of this process is that there are a great many very real things in this story, sometimes very apparent and sometimes quietly hidden in the text like Easter eggs. Here are a few of my favorites, though I know that astute readers will find many more:
Mark Antony’s Actium Coin
Though I really want you to buy a copy of SHARDS, you don’t need to do so to find this little Easter egg. The cover of my novel (by the indomitable Larry Rostant) shows the close-up of a Roman centurion in armor. A prominent part of this garb are the centurion’s phalerae, which are round medals of commendation. One of these, if you look closely, is based on actual coins that were minted by Mark Antony for his Sixth Legion before the Battle of Actium, an event that plays a central role in my novel. There are, as far as I know, no phalerae that match extant coins in quite this same way, but that frankly doesn’t keep me from grinning at how fun it was to hide this little gem in plain sight!
THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN has two excellent maps, both executed by the cartographic artist Rhys Davies. One is a general map of the Mediterranean, but the other is an absolutely gorgeous map of Cleopatra’s Alexandria that still blows me away. When I was talking about this map with the amazing folks at Tor, we discussed ways of using it to help readers get a feel for the atmosphere of Ptolemaic Egypt. Rhys’ illustrated map does this in spades by giving us a kind of “birds’ eye” look at the architecture of the city — plus, as an added bonus, he has placed a gathering of hieroglyphics in the lower left corner. What do they represent? Why, it’s the name of Caesarion, son of Julius Caesar and Cleopatra, who features heavily in the novel and was, at the time, co-regent of Egypt with his mother.
In chapter 10 of SHARDS, one of my characters makes a throw-away reference about Cleopatra calling in a favor from a Roman named Publius Canidius. A passing thing, seemingly only necessary for making a quick connection between plot elements … except that it’s also rooted in the only document we have that shows Cleopatra’s signature: a scrap of papyrus ordering substantive tax exemptions be given to Canidius. Upon the decree, the queen wrote “genesthoi” [make it so].
Much of the harbor and the royal palaces of Cleopatra’s Alexandria sank beneath the waves when an earthquake on the island of Crete on 21 July 365 triggered a devastating tsunami that inundated the city. Recently, archaeologists have begun to investigate the underwater remains, an effort that was integral to my remapping of the city. In addition to all that, researchers have discovered artifacts, like a statue of Caesarion — a statue that I couldn’t help but put in the background in chapter 11.
Relief of the Battle of Actium
The Battle of Actium was an extraordinary naval battle. It also takes a central role in the events of the middle third of THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN. Though I had to play a little bit loose with history as we know it (read and find out!), I did want to get things as right as possible. I have a rather thick file of research materials on the tactics and technologies of the engagement, including fascinating studies of the warship rams that Octavian seized and had placed in his Victory Monument at Nikopolis. More than anything else, though, I was drawn to a contemporary marble relief depicting the battle that has been split up between a number of museums (the piece pictured here is in Córdoba).
I could share many others — including my favorite Roman artifact, which features in next year’s sequel to THE SHARDS OF HEAVEN — but that might take all the fun out of it for you, the readers!
About the author:
In his author life, he is a winner of the prestigious international Writers of the Future Contest (in 2005), and his novel SHARDS OF HEAVEN, the first in a trilogy of historical fantasies, will be published by Tor Books in November 2015. He has also published in a variety of other genres and venues, from a historical retelling of BEOWULF to a brief story about quantum physics in the world-renowned journal of science, NATURE.
In his academic life, he has published more than a dozen articles on subjects as varied as early Christianity, BEOWULF, Chaucer, James Joyce, J.R.R. Tolkien, and digital and practical pedagogies (though never all of them at once!). He has investigated European maps of America that pre-date Columbus, found unrecorded Anasazi ruins and artifacts, and written about the handwriting of fourteenth-century scribes. He is the general editor of the Liverpool Historical Casebooks Series, for which he has edited casebooks on the Battle of Brunanburh (Exeter, 2011), the Welsh rebel hero Owain Glyndwr (co-edited with John Bollard; Liverpool, 2013), and, coming soon, the Battle of Crécy (co-edited with Kelly DeVries; 2015).
BUY HERE: The Shards of Heaven by
- Series: The Shards of Heaven (Book 1)
- Hardcover: 416 pages
- Publisher: Tor Books (November 24, 2015)
- Language: English
- ISBN-10: 0765380315
- ISBN-13: 978-0765380319
Julius Caesar is dead, assassinated on the senate floor, and the glory that is Rome has been torn in two. Octavian, Caesar’s ambitious great-nephew and adopted son, vies with Marc Antony and Cleopatra for control of Caesar’s legacy.
But as civil war rages from Rome to Alexandria, and vast armies and navies battle for supremacy, a secret conflict may truly shape the course of history: two sons of Caesar have set out on a ruthless quest to find and control the Shards of Heaven, legendary artifacts said to possess the very power of the gods — or of the one God.
Caught up in these cataclysmic events, and the hunt for the Shards, are a pair of exiled Roman legionnaires, a Greek librarian of uncertain loyalties, assassins, spies, slaves . . . and the ten-year-old daughter of Cleopatra herself.
The Shards of Heaven reveals the hidden magic behind the history we know, and commences a war greater than any mere mortal battle.