Thank-you to NetGalley and Lake Union Publishing for my advanced reading copy of this novel. For a full synopsis of this novel provided by Goodreads please click here.
This novel is told from the perspectives of three very different women. Julia is the daughter of Emperor Augustus (heir to Julius Caesar), Livia is his wife and Selene is his ward, daughter of the defeated and now deceased Marc Anthony and Cleopatra. All three characters are striving to find their path in the new world of Rome after the civil war and the death of the Republic.
For the most part I found this novel to be Julia’s story. Her character not only had the most prose but was also the most vivid of the three. I came to feel a strong connection to her and therefore her bias became my own. Considering the two other main character’s opinions often conflicted with Julia’s it is quite telling that I sided with her the way I did. I truly felt every heartbreak and pitied every lonely thought that she had. The author states in her author’s note that her “biggest challenge in writing this novel was to portray her [Julia] as a psychologically comprehensible human being”. She absolutely succeeded. Julia’s character resonated with me in a way that the others did not and a very strong empathetic response was stirred. I greatly admire the author’s character development of Julia.
Overall this is not an action-packed novel, rather the focus is upon the three female protagonists and how their lives were affected by the everyday workings of the early Roman Empire. Augustus is portrayed as the personification of the Empire itself and therefore his whims become lore and his moods shape the lives of those around him. Taking up with Julia as I did meant that I did not like the character of Augustus at all. As a father he is a complete failure, regardless of how capable a ruler he was. Julia feels nothing more than a tool in his hand, used to help shape the Empire into what he wishes it to be. It is not surprising why she behaves as she does, a promiscuous wild child searching for the thing that is missing from her life: unselfish love. Once she finally finds it I became terrified that it would be taken from her. I fervently wished that this wouldn’t be the case, whilst at the same time picking up on the undertone of doom the author was filtering into the novel. Julia’s life felt very much like a car crash hurtling towards the inevitable.
Although I didn’t forge quite the same connection to Livia or Selene, I still appreciated what their voices brought to the novel. Livia’s undeniable love for Augustus went a little way towards humanizing a man who would have otherwise come across as completely robotic. Selene represented the mercy he could show and is portrayed as a living reminder of the civil war and the destruction that it wrought. Having lost both parents to this war it is hard to imagine how Selene would have felt towards the victor and subsequently the killer of her parents. In this novel Selene thrives and the author explains this by cleverly creating a memory for Selene of her mother’s dying wish being for her daughter to live. Therefore she strives to do just that. She focuses not upon revenge or hatred but rather upon continuing her mother’s legacy of being a wise and enlightened ruler. Her marriage to Juba and role as Queen of Mauretania allowed her to personify this ideal. It struck me as ironic that Selene’s destiny was both happy and fulfilling and Julia’s was not, considering that one was the daughter of the victor and the other the daughter of the loser.
Overall I really enjoyed this novel and I will definitely be going back and reading the first novel written by this author, “I am Livia”. Although it takes place prior to this novel I do not believe the order will matter too much and I hope that it grants me a somewhat different perspective of Livia than the one I hold right now.