‘Masterful in its portrayal of love, sex and friendship’ - The Observer
'Utterly engrossing, vivid and honest' - Emma Donoghue
Raised in a brothel at the edge of a dying empire, a boy of no known origin creates his own identity. He is Sparrow, who sings without reason and can fly from trouble. His world is a kitchen, a herb-scented garden, a loud and dangerous tavern, and the mysterious upstairs where the ‘wolves’ – prostitutes and slaves from every corner of the empire – conduct their business.
He spends his days listening to stories told by his beloved ‘mother’ Euterpe, running errands for her lover the cook, and dodging the blows of their brutal overseer and the machinations of the chief wolf, Melpomene. A hard fate awaits Sparrow, one that involves suffering, murder, mayhem, and the scattering of the women who have been his whole world.
Through meticulous research and bold imagination, James Hynes brings the entirety of the Roman city of Carthago Nova – its markets, temples, taverns of the lowly and mansions of the rich – to vivid, brutal life. Walking through lost places, hearing forgotten voices, this story belongs to the slave class that made an infamous empire function.
This is one of the most powerfully affecting and memorable characters of recent fiction.
This is Sparrow.
Utterly engrossing, vivid, and honest, this coming of age story reaches across millennia to grab us by the throat.'
An unnerving, exhilarating, unflinching portrayal of sex, slavery and sisterhood, takes the reader to one the most pitiless backstreets of the Roman Empire in its final years only to discover there - between the violence and the suffering, amid the Decline and the Fall - enduring tenderness and love. This is a novel of ancient times for our times. And it is splendid, a work of scorching distinction.