(Cover picture courtesy of Goodreads.)
National bestselling author Kate Quinn returns with the long-awaited fourth volume in the Empress of Rome series, an unforgettable new tale of the politics, power, and passion that defined ancient Rome.
Elegant, secretive Sabina may be Empress of Rome, but she still stands poised on a knife’s edge. She must keep the peace between two deadly enemies: her husband Hadrian, Rome’s brilliant and sinister Emperor; and battered warrior Vix, who is her first love. But Sabina is guardian of a deadly secret: Vix’s beautiful son Antinous has become the Emperor’s latest obsession.
Empress and Emperor, father and son will spin in a deadly dance of passion, betrayal, conspiracy, and war. As tragedy sends Hadrian spiraling into madness, Vix and Sabina form a last desperate pact to save the Empire. But ultimately, the fate of Rome lies with an untried girl, a spirited redhead who may just be the next Lady of the Eternal City . . .
[Full disclosure: I received a free ebook in conjunction with the blog tour in exchange for an honest review.]
One of the things I’ve always struggled with in Kate Quinn’s Empress of Rome series is the believability factor. She does take the most sensational gossip about all of the emperors she writes about and portrays it in her novels. It’s a conscious choice rather than a mistake caused by lack of knowledge but sometimes it really doesn’t sit easy with me as someone who has studied Roman history to a certain extent. I liked where she took this sensationalism in her first book Mistress of Rome but really didn’t like it in Daughters of Rome because the believability factor with those characters was just not there. However, I set aside my impressions about the two books in the series that I’ve read (I’ve unfortunately skipped #3 but it wasn’t necessary to understand this story) to read Lady of the Eternal City. Because whether I agree with her or not on historical matters, Kate Quinn does write a good story.
Here we have some pretty fabulous characters: Vix, who is all grown up and watching his children both biological and adopted grow up, Sabina who is now Empress of Rome, Antinous the rather naive adopted son of Vix and Hadrian the capricious and ruthless emperor. Of all of these characters, I really did love Antinous the best. Of course I knew how his story was going to end but Kate Quinn made me love him in a way that I didn’t think was possible. For all that his naivete was his main flaw it was also his strength and led to some tremendous changes in other characters. In the cutthroat world of Roman power politics, he stayed innocent and really did believe the best of everyone, even those who mocked and hurt him. Antinous’ father Vix of course was also a great character. On one hand he is loyal to Rome because of his years in the legions. On the other hand, he’d really, really like to slit Hadrian’s throat because of a history of bad blood between the two of them. Vix is a complicated man and he’s far from perfect as you’ll definitely see around the halfway point in this book if you do read it. It makes him more realistic, considering his background.
The plot is not fast-paced even by historical fiction standards but Kate Quinn tells such a good story that you’ll have no problem sailing through the 500+ pages of the novel. Unlike some historical novels, it doesn’t feel like the unseen hand of the author is moving the characters forcibly down the paths of their historical counterparts. No, she creates her characters in such a way that it feels like you really know the historical figure and understand why the character chose to go down their particular path in life. Antinous’ story in particular resonated with me because so little is actually known about him as a person; he was sort of an ornament in Hadrian’s entourage for a number of years. But Antinous in the story really breathes life into a boy known to history as a wallflower, nothing more.
I don’t necessarily agree with the portrayals of all of the historical figures mentioned in the novel but Kate Quinn is generally very historically accurate. Her descriptions of everything from the numerous provinces Hadrian visits all the way to the everyday clothes of men and women are just fabulous. She brings a sort of authenticity to her writing that makes you feel like you’re right there along with the characters exploring the farthest reaches of the Roman Empire. And the little details she adds in to daily life just make it all the more believable. Lady of the Eternal City is one of those novels where you can quite honestly say you learned something from it when you’re done reading.
So if you have read and liked the rest of the Empress of Rome series, you will like Lady of the Eternal City. It reveals so much more about our old friends Sabina and Vix while also introducing an entirely new cast of characters in the next generation of the Roman elite. As with all of Kate Quinn’s books although it takes some of the most sensational stories from the time it remains true to the general historical facts and Quinn adds in little details that make you feel like you’re right there along with the characters. And that is one of the best ways to measure the calibre of any historical fiction novel.
I give this book 5/5 stars.