Title: Touching Fire: A Vestal Virgin’s Tale
Author: Peter B. Dedek
Publisher: Independently published
Copyright: February 18, 2021
Format: E-Book, 460 Pages
Genres: Historical Fiction, Ancient Fiction
Touching Fire: A Vestal Virgin’s Tale chronicles an ancient priestess’s tragic quest for freedom and meaning in the stunning, colorful, and oppressive setting of imperial Rome. One of six Vestal Virgins sworn to celibacy and duty on pain of death, Cornelia, who received a classical education normally reserved for aristocratic boys, yearns to travel the world and enjoy the privileges of a man. After mindlessly letting the eternal temple fire go out, Cornelia runs away from the Vestals to find her own way which leads to slavery, emancipation, and forbidden relationships with two men, a plebian Christian and a patrician senator, one deeply platonic and the other passionately romantic. In her efforts to survive and to save the people she loves, she runs up against Caesar Domitian, a capricious, dictatorial ruler who is determined to keep Cornelia, the Vestal Virgins, and the rest of the Roman empire under his control.
In this tale set between 81 and 90 AD, Cornelia is a young Vestal Virgin who comes from a Patrician family in ancient Rome. Like all the priestesses of Vesta, she spends her days tending to the holy fire, living out a vow of chastity, and fulfilling the ceremonial requirements of her position. She escapes from the temple one night after she mistakenly lets the fire go out, knowing she will be punished if caught. Thereafter, she has a number of adventures and experiences the horrors of the world outside.
Touching Fire is a fascinating and culturally rich book that brings to life the world of ancient Rome. In Peter Dedek’s work, one sees a mélange of people, religions, and cultures characteristic of the far-flung Roman Empire. In her travels, Cornelia comes across people from diverse walks of life, including a Christian man who she befriends. What particularly fascinated me was Dedek’s depictions of Vestal Virgin life and the rules that these women had to abide by. It is apparent that the author conducted a great deal of research on this topic. While the descriptions are well-written, the characters’ dialogue comes across as a bit too anachronistic at times. It was distracting and took me out of the story.
Overall, this book is a quick and enjoyable read.
Originally featured on the History Novel Society website.