The Seven Wonders
© 2012 Steven Saylor
A few years ago, I read through the Roma sub Rosa series in which a first-century Sherlock Holmes named Gordianus the Finder made his living investigating murders and other sundry mysteries which were in great supply during Rome’s transition from republic to empire. The Seven Wonders marks the return of the Finder, or rather his beginning as a freshly-togaed young man touring the world with his tutor, Antipater of Sidon — a poet who fakes his own death, and not just to get out of town. Although Gordianus will encounter mysteries in every city he visits, the greatest intrigue is in his own camp. The stars of The Seven Wonders are the wonders themselves, as Saylor’s story is a fictional travelogue of the ancient world. Today, of course, only one of the “Seven Wonders of the Ancient World” remains standing, the Great Pyramid. The others have been lost to natural disasters or human neglect. In Gordianus’ day, most of them dominate the landscape of their cities. The Colossus of Rhodes has already fallen from earthquakes, but even partially submerged it’s magnificent — and the Hanging Gardens, though largely a pile of rubble, are a very impressive pile of rubble protected by the staggeringly beautiful Ishtar Gate. Gordianus invariably arrives in each city just as something special is going on: the Olympics, for instance, or a fertility festival. The Seven Wonders is a cultural tour of the classical world punctuated by death, theft, and skirt-chasing. (Gordianus was a responsible family man in virtually every other Roma sub Rosa series, but here he’s young, knows no fear, and is randy as a goat in springtime. He even manages to be seduced by a goddess while sleeping in the Great Pyramid.) I daresay the novel is more enjoyable for the setting than the actual mysteries, since most of the time the reader is kept clueless until Gordianus reveals what he’s been noticing and mulling over without letting the reader know. Had the work been longer, the mysteries might have been more enticing — but 300 pages is brief considering the scope of his travels.
The Seven Wonders is enjoyable enough, though nothing on the order of Roma or Empire.