Sparrow: The Sunday Times Top 10 Bestseller
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 senior prostitute, Melpomene. A hard fate awaits Sparrow, one that involves suffering, murder, mayhem, and the scattering of the women who have been his whole world.
In this unforgettable novel, James Hynes brings the ancient Roman city of Carthago Nova – its markets, temples, taverns of the lowly, and mansions of the rich – to vivid, brutal life. As we walk through lost places, and hear forgotten voices, Sparrow reminds us how a great and glorious empire was built on the backs of slaves like him.
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 the millenia to grab us by the throat."
"This 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."
"Sparrow is a brilliantly written page-turner, a complex, vital, sometimes brutal story told with heartrending beauty."
"Richly detailed...a vivid portrait of a literal empire of pain."
"Sparrow is a wonderful novel, but it’s also a visceral and brutal one...Hynes has found a way of making the events of almost 2,000 years ago feel as if they are happening right now, in front of our faces."
–Alex Preston, The Observer
"An entirely authentic portrait of an abused slave boy. James Hynes renders this hidden world so powerfully and vividly."
–Antonia Senior, The Times
"A secret history that teems with the brutality, sensuality, and frailty of life in a decaying empire."
–Fiction Pick of the Week, Sydney Morning Herald
"Sparrow’s voice is original and moving and the grueling work of the brothel becomes absolutely real. The wolves and their shifting relationships – by turns tender, competitive and bullying – are beautifully portrayed."
–Alice Jolly, The Guardian
"Few recent novels have conjured up the ancient world with such vividness...Sparrow paints a memorable portrait of a long-vanished society and its protagonist’s struggle to understand it from his position at the bottom of the food chain."
–Nick Rennison, May 2023 historical novel of the month, The Sunday Times
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