Monday, December 11, 2017

Empress of Rome

Empress of Rome Saga, Kate Quinn

Five years ago, I reviewed the first two of four books in Kate Quinn’s Empress of Rome Saga. I always meant to return to the rest of the series and have just done so, probably because I got caught up in the Ancient Roman world of Caesar reading Iggulden’s Emperor series. That was about 50BC, this series starts about 100 years later and covers about 50 years of Emperors, their families and their courts, often told from the perspective of the women, including the Empresses. Mistress of Rome was a fascinating although disturbing read of Emperor Domitian, who was vicious, cruel and probably mad; the woman who became his mistress Thea and her love, the gladiator Arius.

Empress of the Seven Hills and Lady of the Eternal City focus on Vix (son of Thea and Arius) and Sabina, a member of the Imperial family. The first centers around beloved Emperor Trajan, who held the empire together and expanded it through large scale warfare. Vix slowly rises through the ranks of the legions, while Sabina balances the interests of her husband Hadrian, potential heir to the Emperor, while the Empress Plotina is mastermining her way through Rome. I enjoyed this one, it didn’t have same level of evil characters that many others had, although Plotina is pretty awful.

Lady of the Eternal City is darker in numerous ways. Hadrian is now Emperor, having gained the throne in suspect circumstances. His vicious side always threatens to erupt and Empress Sabina treads a careful dance trying to manage him. Hadrian’s long time enemy Vix struggles to maintain his vengeful streak when Hadrian’s love and attention turns to his son, Antinous. Quinn’s comments at the end note that much of what she has related here is confirmed in historical record, it was a passionate and long affair between two men that affected the Empire and people’s opinion of the Emperor. Numerous statues, cities and temples were erected in Antinous’ honour by Hadrian. Quinn also notes that numerous Roman Emperors lived openly homosexual lives, particularly with their attention turning to young boys and slaves. It's an acknowledged part of history. At the same time, she dwells in these details. I really enjoyed the story of Sabina, Vix and their travels around the Roman Empire. I enjoyed the explanations of the way the Empire ran, the details of the characters, both good and bad, but I didn’t need to spend that much time in the details of the relationship between Trajan and Antinous. We all have our reading preferences.

Quinn is a gifted writer, she sets a cracking pace and keeps you interested the whole way along. She has written books of other times as well, I’ll turn to them soon.

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