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Literature / Search the Seven Hills

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Search The Seven Hills aka The Quirinal Hill Affair is a Historical Detective Fiction novel by Barbara Hambly set in Ancient Rome during the last years of Trajan's reign.

Marcus Caius Silanus is a young Roman aristocrat disowned by his abusive father for studying philosophy. He is hanging around his old stomping grounds on the Quirinal Hill to catch a glimpse of his childhood friend and love who he has heard has been betrothed to another man - and sees her kidnapped by a clutch of nasty-looking characters, one of whom drops a small fish charm, which a horrified Marcus identifies as a symbol of the outlawed Christian cult. He knows he must rescue his love, Tertullia Vara, quickly before she is raped in an orgy or sacrificed to the Christians' god. Marcus enlists the aid of a reclusive old patrician nobleman, an expert in Eastern cults, and his household of intelligent and assertive slaves in a frantic 'search of the Seven Hills' of Rome that takes him from the (literal) underworld of weird alien cults to the even more corrupt upper levels of Roman society.



  • Abusive Parents: Or rather parent, Marcus' father abuses his wife, his children and his slaves and eventually dies a karmic death from a stroke brought on by rage.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Not all but many of the upper class characters have unpleasant hobbies and no scruples.
  • Armor-Piercing Question: As a philosopher Marcus seeks 'Truth and Beauty'. Arrius, the praetorian officer investigating Tertullia Vara's kidnapping asks "What if you found the Truth and it was ugly?"
  • Arranged Marriage: Marcus seeks out Tertullia because he's just heard that she's been given by her father to a rich but vulgar Syrian.
  • As the Good Book Says...: The Christians in their constant theological wranglings quote not only the canonical bible but non-canonical books as well.
  • Badass Bookworm: Sixtus is so this.
  • Beneath the Earth: According to Sixtus you can go from one end of Rome to the other without showing your face above ground, and we see enough of the literal underworld to believe him.
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  • Blue Blood: The Silani and and the Varii have this and money but it's not enough. As Marcus observes it's the Emperor's freedmen who really run Rome.
  • Cool Old Guy: Sixtus Claudius Julianus is made of this trope.
  • Conspicuous Consumption: Roman society is all about this.
  • Crapsack World: Rome is so this, and during the reign of one of the 'good' emperors too.
  • Decadent Court: We don't see the Imperial Court but Roman politics are very decadent.
  • Deity of Human Origin: The Romans - and Jews - in the book have trouble grasping how an executed carpenter can be God. The Christians' constant arguments over the question does not help.
  • Dysfunctional Family: The Silani are very much this trope.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Marcus, and Tertullia Vara, must do this.
  • Fantastic Religious Weirdness: How Christianity seems to good Romans.
  • For the Evulz: Marcus believes the Christians motives are this - until he meets some.
  • Gladiator Games: Tertullia Vara's kidnapping is assumed to be revenge by the Christians on her father for burning some of their co-religionists at games he gave some years before.
  • God Before Dogma: The Christians avert this by arguing their complex and competing dogmas at every opportunity.
  • Happiness in Slavery: Sixtus' several slaves have been offered their freedom time and again but prefer to stay with him. As Marcus gets to know Sixtus better he thinks he understands why.
  • Heaven Seeker: At least one of the Christians is actively seeking martyrdom as a direct road to Glory (Truth in Television for many then).
  • The Hermit: Sixtus Claudius Julianus has been playing hermit in his deteriorating mansion on Quirinal Hill since Marcus and Tertullia were young children.
  • High Priest: Finding the High Priest of the Christians, called 'Papa', becomes a priority for Marcus. Papa turns out to be closer than Marcus' thinks.
  • Holier Than Thou: ALL the various and argumentative Christians sects believe they are this.
  • Hope Is Scary: Marcus feels it would be a relief to give way to despair over his kidnapped love interest, as 'hope is exhausting', but Sixtus won't let him.
  • Human Sacrifice: Christians supposedly do this. Worshipers of Atargatis actually do.
  • Illegal Religion: Both Christianity and the worship of Atargatis are this. At first Marcus can see little to choose between the two.
  • Impoverished Patrician: Sixtus looks like this but isn't. Marcus' only income is a small allowance from his disgruntled father and the villain is living WAY over his income.
  • Jesus: Sixtus actually talked to the Centurion in charge of Jesus' execution and got a first-hand description of the Christians' Savior.
  • Love-Obstructing Parents: Marcus and Tertullia are childhood playmates from families of similar status and wealth. They should have no problem pairing off, but unfortunately their fathers quarreled and are now bitter enemies.
  • Mystery Cult: Sixtus defines Christianity as one of these, and Mithraism gets a mention too.
  • Nobility Marries Money: The reason for Tertullia Vara's engagement to a 'greasy' Syrian merchant.
  • The Philosopher: Marcus is training to be one and Sixtus is reputed to be one.
  • Scary Amoral Religion: What Christianity looks like to Romans.
  • Secret Identity: A surprising number of characters have one.
  • Self-Made Man: These were not admired by the Romans, and the examples we meet are not admirable at all.
  • Slavery Is a Special Kind of Evil: At least if you have the wrong master it is.
  • Too Important to Walk: Fancy litters with good looking heavily muscled matched bearers are a real status symbol in Rome.
  • Upper-Class Twit: Marcus' younger brother Felix plays this role to a 'T'. It may or may not be Obfuscating Stupidity.