cover image Household Gods

Household Gods

Judith Tarr. Tor Books, $27.95 (512pp) ISBN 978-0-312-86487-3

Historical fantasists Tarr and Turtledove rework The Wizard of Oz in this absorbing new collaboration. Nicole Gunther-Perrin, their L.A. '90s version of Dorothy, is a 30-ish attorney trapped in a single mom's nightmare. Her well-to-do, deadbeat ex-husband is frolicking with a bosomy blonde. Her baby-sitter abruptly decides to move back to Mexico. A younger--male!--colleague gets the partnership she's been thirsting after. The kids throw up in the car. The microwave gives up the ghost... and Nicole, praying for a simpler life, collapses. She wakes up in the body of a widowed tavernkeeper in 2nd-century Carnuntum, a Danube-side outpost of the Roman Empire. Life is simpler--but even more miserable: battling filth, lice, lead poisoning, dysentery, plague, starvation and barbarians, Nicole learns that the mangy lions in Carnuntum's arena eat real people, and she is raped by one of the armor-clattering Roman soldiers who beat back the ravaging Germans. Then Titus Calidius Severus, a reeking workman with a tender, generous heart, thaws Nicole's brittle spirit and helps her share the basic happiness that keeps the everyday Romans around her going. Nicole also abandons some of her liberal sacred cows for solid Roman common sense: a swat on the bottom, she learns, does wonders for pre-teen rebellion that futile attempts at reasoning cannot. Once Nicole whirls back to present-day Los Angeles, she's more grown-up, far better able to cope with her life because she now understands the people around her and cares about them more. Drawing on a wealth of fascinating historical material and fleshing it out with snappy dialogue, superb characterizations and a genuinely appealing heroine, Tarr and Turtledove genially prove how much fun it can be to go back to Oz--and even better, that there's no place like home. (Sept.)