You all know that I enjoy Kate Quinn's books, but this is my favorite by far. Quinn specializes in irreverent, fast-paced romps through antiquity. In...moreYou all know that I enjoy Kate Quinn's books, but this is my favorite by far. Quinn specializes in irreverent, fast-paced romps through antiquity. In a literary world where historical fiction often takes itself too seriously, Quinn tends to underplay her more serious themes by thumbing her nose at reader expectation. Her smart-alec tone is perfectly suited to the story--that of a hellion-turned-legionary commander and the spirited but unconventional patrician girl he loves.
We expect these star-crossed lovers to be doomed by their difference in birth and any number of imperial laws and marital duties that are likely to keep them apart. But Quinn doesn't take the easy route in this romance. (Indeed, one questions if it really is a romance at all.)
Our scoundrel of a hero loves Emperor Trajan and his legion more than he loves anything. Our aloof heroine is so practical about the realities of life and so determined to be in possession of her own destiny, that love is always a secondary concern. Vix can be an arrogant, womanizing, narrow-minded killing machine, who often has to be guilted into doing the right thing. Sabina doesn't seem to have a sentimental bone in her body; the woman is made of iron.
They would be easy characters to dislike but they are each lovable in their own way. Vix is a sort of cheerful miscreant; he's a big trouble-maker with a warm fuzzy heart underneath it all. Sabina is oddly moved by duty, by loftier philosophical motives than she would admit.
Where our lovers are bonded most closely is not in their mutual affection for each other, but in their hatred for Emperor Trajan's successor, Hadrian, and in their abiding respect for Titus, the last honest man in Rome. Vix and Sabina aren't willing to sacrifice very much for each other--which is why they never stay together for very long--but they're willing to collectively sacrifice for others and it's a sort of redemption.
I loved watching Vix rise in the ranks and took great pleasure from a number of plot points that were set-up in earlier books now brought to fruition. Vix is the strongest character in the book with the most vibrant voice--I see a market for lots of Vix Explores Dacia stories in the future--but the self-deprecating Titus is surprisingly wonderful too.
In all, I enjoyed every page of this book. It was clever and even though it ends on a dark cliff-hanger, it left me grinning.
Who knows, maybe there's a little of Vix in me that I am looking forward to the coming blood bath.
(Full Disclosure: I'm personally acquainted with Kate Quinn, so I always hear the humor in her voice when I'm reading.) (less)
This is a long overdue review for a book that I'm crazy about. This isn't the kind of dry or overly artsy narrative that sometimes puts people off his...moreThis is a long overdue review for a book that I'm crazy about. This isn't the kind of dry or overly artsy narrative that sometimes puts people off historical fiction. This is an extremely dynamic novel in the tradition of Spartacus, Gladiator, or HBO's Rome.
It's splashy, salacious, adventurous good fun with a kick-ass protagonist and villains who need to die. Quinn takes a mysterious historical assassination and invents a whole cast of characters to explain everything in an exciting and thought-provoking way. And some of the characters she invents are bold choices and good fun. My favorite character may well have been Paulinus, a scion of a noble family who meant well, but whose strength of character wasn't what he wished it to be.
I particularly enjoyed the way Quinn handles scandalous material--by hardly batting an eyelash. The realism of violence, prostitution and other sexual abuse is so prevalent in this world that it wouldn't make sense for our heroine, a slave, to get fussy about it. She handles it all with matter-of-factness.
Another thing I loved is the clear and spare prose. Readers won't stumble over the language of this book; it's refreshingly straight-forward and it helps to make this book into a page-turner.
Now, when it comes to ancient Rome, I'm a Julio-Claudian kind of girl. After Claudius, everything gets pretty hazy for me. So I approached this book knowing nothing about the Flavians and I learned a great deal. Can't recommend this one enough!(less)
I couldn't be more pleased about the resurgence of interest in Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Given that I've spent the past few years of my life working on...moreI couldn't be more pleased about the resurgence of interest in Cleopatra VII of Egypt. Given that I've spent the past few years of my life working on a trilogy about Cleopatra's daughter starting with Lily of the Nile, I admit a ready bias in favor of Stacy Schiff's new biography. However, I believe that this book would appeal even to those who don't have an obsession with Egypt's most famous monarch.
Schiff's tone is easy and breezy--injecting humor and modern comparisons into this survey of the queen's life. I appreciated the thoughtful analyses of the more hotly debated aspects of the queen's life and Schiff very wisely refrains from taking a side. Instead, she seldom throws her weight behind anything that can't be proved. (One exception to this is the manner of Cleopatra's death. Though ancient evidence suggests otherwise, Schiff doesn't believe Cleopatra died by serpenticide. However, she also cautions against the modern habit of insisting that Octavian must have killed his enemy. She suggests that, at most, Octavian may simply have decided to allow an already suicidal Cleopatra to finally have her way.)
In all, this book covers the subject in enough depth that one or two little tidbits were actually new to me, but she's never bogged down in the history. Indeed, she skims over the surface of Cleopatra's life like some a lotus on the Nile. If there's any weakness to this excellent biography, it's that. The narrative shies away from too much speculation about Cleopatra's inner life. The author always remains quite detached, respectful to her subject, but remote.
Still, this is probably what a biographer must do. Those who are wishing for emotional investment should probably seek out historical fiction. Margaret George's The Memoirs of Cleopatra embraces the same dedication to accuracy while also telling an emotionally compelling story.(less)
I don't know how John Maddox Roberts manages to make his protagonist's xenophobia so good-natured and cheerful, but he does. Reading a book with Deciu...moreI don't know how John Maddox Roberts manages to make his protagonist's xenophobia so good-natured and cheerful, but he does. Reading a book with Decius Metellus in it is like visiting with an old friend. I might want to scold him for his horrid behavior, but he makes me laugh and teaches me so long along the way.(less)