The Shadow of Vesuvius is a slight tale about a Greek boy, Timon, who has been captured and sold as a slave to the dotty but lovable painter, Scrofa. The two of them are working on the paintings for the house of the Vettii and a complicated plot involving a runaway marriage, an escaping gladiator and perfidious pirates reaches its conclusion as the volcanic ash begins to rain down.
Eilís Dillon tries hard to create a picture of the busy, heartless, commercially minded and materialistic city, but she is only intermittently successful. Her characters, too, lack conviction and their dialogue is frequently wooden. Yet there is something in the book, for all that: a sense, perhaps, of a fundamental decency which, though its standards differ from our own, is none the less genuine.
Anne Carter, "Gift of the Gods," in The Times Literary Supplement (© Times Newspapers Ltd. (London) 1978; reproduced from The Times Literary Supplement by permission), No. 3966, April 7, 1978, p. 382.
Eilis Dillon seems more at home in the offbeat poetry of Ireland than in the harsh commercial world of Pompeii on the eve. But she is above everything a story-teller and she has a good one to tell here [in The Shadow of Vesuvius]. (p. 151)
Miss Dillon has done her homework well and Pompeii, which we know as well as any place in the ancient world, shows crisp and clear in all its tawdriness. There are thrills aplenty but no contrivance. Even the villains are villains by circumstance. Some of the portraits, especially Scrofa the old painter, are beautifully done, but psychology never gets in the way of the narrative which drives forward at a fine pace—a good read. (pp. 151-52).
"For Children from Ten to Fourteen: 'The Shadow of Vesuvius'," in The Junior Bookshelf, Vol. 42, No. 3, June, 1978, pp. 151-52.