For readers used to a Julia Quinn-style Regency tone, this novel would make a good introduction to more serious ancient historical fare. We do manageFor readers used to a Julia Quinn-style Regency tone, this novel would make a good introduction to more serious ancient historical fare. We do manage to secure happy-ish endings for most, if not all, of our heroines. But the light touch is deceptive.
While the snarky tone of the writing and the scenes of privileged noblewomen fussing endlessly over weddings and clothing might give the impression that this is a fun romp through ancient Rome, beneath the glossy surface is novel that tackles some very serious issues. This is a novel not just about the powerlessness of even privileged women in ancient times, but, more importantly, about the way women coped with it.
We're given four different models for how to adapt. We have Cornelia, the upright girl who never did anything wrong until she realized that propriety would never protect her from losing what she valued most. We have Lollia, whose family wealth ensures that she'll be handed over from one man to the next, only to find that her casual attitudes about sex won't protect her, or her loved ones, against the dark realities of life. We have Diana, who never wavers from her unconventionality. And last, but not least, we have Marcella, who should have been a historian, perhaps an emperor, and whose bitterness at being shut out leads her to desperate, horrifying acts.
You know I love a bad girl, and this novel has them in spades. I'm reminded more of the bad girls in Starz' Spartacus than in HBO's Rome, but I'm sure there's a little bit of both here.
The novel starts slow, but the author has a lot of players to put onto the game board--many of them with the same name. Once the daggers come out, however, the book shoots off like a charioteer at the races. I enjoyed the way my emotions were toyed with in regards to my feelings about our heroines. I came to love and hate them each in turn, and then love them again.
Whereas Mistress of Rome touched upon the horrors of the ancient world with an unflinching eye, this second novel almost makes light of tragedy. As if we must laugh not to be driven mad. But it's all there. The year of four emperors. Blood in the streets. No safe harbor for anyone. Not even the reader. And I love books like that. ...more
Throw your expectations out the window, because this is a different kind of romance novel. Having read and loved Butterfly Swords, I expected a pluckyThrow your expectations out the window, because this is a different kind of romance novel. Having read and loved Butterfly Swords, I expected a plucky heroine adventuring in an exotic time and place with a hero who has a heart of gold. I got something much better.
Our heroine, Suyin, was the emperor's concubine. Her weapons are beauty, poise, secrets and intrigue. Our hero is a ruthless warlord who has turned against his master more than once. These are sophisticated characters who are cynical about life and love. The result is a mature romance that tugged at my heartstrings because it wasn't the story of two people coming together for high-minded reasons, but two battered souls, two grim survivors, given a chance at redemption.
The ending of the novel seemed to change abruptly in tone, from a darker story to something lighter, trickier, and slippery. Almost dreamlike. As if it was how the characters wished it might end, instead of how it might have really happened. I'm told there are cultural reasons for this, and in truth, this novel does seem more exotic than its predecessor.
This is a beautiful book. There's a cinematic quality to the novel; I was able to visualize Dynastic China in beautiful little glimpses. If I close my eyes, I can imagine our heroine wearing her blue silk, standing between the stone guardians of her lover's fortress, hoping he will come home alive. I can vividly imagine the heroine submitting herself to her lover's ink, letting him leave his mark on her.
The love story built slowly, so that when our heroine declares that she will die without her lover, I believed her. And I was so glad she got her happy ending. ...more
Uh, wow. You're not going to find a better overview than this one. Very detailed and thoughtful study on the way an ancient empire fed itself. One cavUh, wow. You're not going to find a better overview than this one. Very detailed and thoughtful study on the way an ancient empire fed itself. One caveat though--if you're looking for a micro-economic examination rather than a macro-economic one, this isn't going to be of much help. This is a big picture overview; it's not going to tell you much about the individual farmer trying to get his crop to market....more
This was hugely informative, but it was organized in such a fashion that it was sometimes hard to follow. For that reason, I have to say that I enjoyeThis was hugely informative, but it was organized in such a fashion that it was sometimes hard to follow. For that reason, I have to say that I enjoyed Anthony Barrett's other biographiers a smidge more. That said, this is a wonderful book for those interested in how a woman might become ruthless....more
I'm really torn on how to review this book. Do I compare it to other books? In which case it's brilliant and stands head and shoulders above the rest.I'm really torn on how to review this book. Do I compare it to other books? In which case it's brilliant and stands head and shoulders above the rest... Or do I compare it to other Ken Follett books? In which case, it's not my favorite. I didn't enjoy it quite as much as I enjoyed Pillars of the Earth or World Without End, in part, because I could smell the author's flop sweat in this novel.
I think Mr. Follett had to work hard for this one, and there were points I felt him struggle. The novel starts brilliantly. I learned so very much and I was totally entertained throughout. However, my initial comments about this book--namely that it should be taught in every high school in America--may have been premature.
The novel is mostly elegant, but occasionally gets bogged down by the history--as if the author were writing in terror of rabid WWI enthusiasts hunting him down and berating him for leaving out a single factoid. Less focus on the battles and more focus on the fascinating characters might have helped.
Billy and Ethel were very sympathetic. Grigori was a Bolshevik to fall in love with. And Lev, he was a rogue I couldn't seem to hate, as much as I wanted to.
I liked all the characters in the novel, but didn't love any of them. I didn't even know who I was supposed to hate. (I've come to enjoy a good comeuppance in Follett novels, so the subtlety threw me.) They weren't as tightly entwined as the characters in the medieval saga, so I missed that sort of woven tapestry. But the author's job is much bigger in this novel--and I will be curious as to see how it unfolds in the next. Especially if I should be reading this novel as essentially Act One.
In spite of these issues, I'm giving it five stars. I mean, you can't go wrong with a Ken Follett novel. I will definitely be getting this one for my dad because it's chock full of fascinating information that's dramatized in an interesting way. Still a Ken Follett fan forever....more
I loved this book--even more than I loved The Pillars of the Earth. Considering that the bulk of the book is about plague, church politics, bridge buiI loved this book--even more than I loved The Pillars of the Earth. Considering that the bulk of the book is about plague, church politics, bridge building and the lives of citizens living in medieval Kingsbridge, you might expect a dry academic read. However, the twisted soap-opera lives of the characters made this book riveting. It also moved quickly for such a long tale and had wildly unexpected twists and turns.
As I was reading, I felt as if I was in the hands of a master storyteller and I was sad when I finally finished it because I knew I had to say goodbye to characters who had become friends. I can't recommend this book highly enough for those of you who love sagas you can sink your teeth into.
Well, there's a wealth of information in this book, but it's not presented with any kind of scholarly rigor. I actually found myself wondering, at sevWell, there's a wealth of information in this book, but it's not presented with any kind of scholarly rigor. I actually found myself wondering, at several points, if the writer was a native English speaker. Herod was a very complex man and unfortunately, this presentation was even more complex. That said, it was a nice starting point for a number of subjects I need to research....more
Even though this story didn't allow Philippa Gregory to show off her talent at portraying sociopaths, I enjoyed it immensely. It has a strange start,Even though this story didn't allow Philippa Gregory to show off her talent at portraying sociopaths, I enjoyed it immensely. It has a strange start, all bound up with Joan of Arc and alchemy. This had all the makings of historical fantasy because our heroine does possess magical powers.
The author flirted with that line hard and I loved it.
But I enjoyed this most because Jacquetta is a woman of agency. She orders her life. She isn't a passive bystander. History does not just happen to her.
What's strange about this book though is that I thought I was quite a Yorkist but my sympathies now veer sharply to Margaret of Anjou. I really don't care that she led a marauding army into England because she appears to have been pushed into it by those upstart Yorks. I think any mother fighting for her son's rights would do the same. What exactly was she to do? Fade off into the good night?
I found myself as torn in my loyalties as our heroine was, and that's excellent writing.
Given the warnings I received about this book, I expected to be upset by the unconventional romance, adultery, the non-consensual sex, or the way theGiven the warnings I received about this book, I expected to be upset by the unconventional romance, adultery, the non-consensual sex, or the way the book defies genre rules. (In truth, it's the fact that it is a blend of historical fiction and fantasy that drew me to it.) In the end, I wasn't upset by any of these things and yet, this was still an emotional reading experience for me.
Ms. Gabaldon has a way with words. The way she turns a phrase, the consistency of voice, the vivid descriptions...these make me green with envy. The characters are extremely memorable. The scope of the story is epic. I will not forget this novel easily. And though the story started off very slowly, I was eventually captivated.
That wasn't always a good thing, however, because my riveted attention was sometimes directed to things I would rather not think about in such detail. The romance was unusual, yes, but I enjoyed it quite a bit. The sexual abuse was often important and thematic, so my knickers aren't in a bunch over that either. It was actually the violence, the torture, the pure unadulterated destruction of the human body, that gives me reservations about recommending this book to others, in spite of its unquestionable quality.
As I quite loved Kushiel's Dart, a novel that actually fetishizes violence and sadism unapologetically, it surprised me to find my stomach churning over what seemed to be gratuitous descriptions of increasing horror in this novel. Moreover, I'm a big fan of dark fiction like A Game of Thrones, so one might expect the relatively happy ending of Outlander might traumatize me a little less. I'm not sure it did! I'm now very curious about the future of these characters--I quite like James Fraser--so clearly I'm going to need a stronger stomach!...more
This was a little less of an emotional roller-coaster than The Greatest Knight, but I still learned a tremendous amount about the time period and in aThis was a little less of an emotional roller-coaster than The Greatest Knight, but I still learned a tremendous amount about the time period and in an entertaining fashion. The relationship between William and Isabel was lovely--truly a model of how romance can be portrayed even after the happy marriage. Beautiful narrative voice, funny, and deeply insightful into human character. Chadwick idolizes William Marshal a wee little bit too much, but who cares. He was truly a knight in shining armor, so more power to her, and to him....more
So, I've been reading a certain kind of book lately. All women's historical fantasy woven with classical mythology. This should come as no surprise toSo, I've been reading a certain kind of book lately. All women's historical fantasy woven with classical mythology. This should come as no surprise to anyone who knows me. I thought that this book would be a lot like Lavinia. I was wrong. At first, I was actually kind of put off by Atwood's irreverent voice. It didn't seem to fit the story. It wasn't until chapter 24 that the whole thing finally snapped into place for me and I realized that I wasn't really reading women's historical fantasy at all...I was reading a very clever literary exercise. Very clever. Very thought-provoking. Very elegant. I leave this book with a wry smile and a little bit of awe so I have to give it five stars even though it might not normally be my cup of tea....more
This was a thoroughly entertaining journey through Restoration England--an experience akin to thumbing through a scrap book. The story is told in bitsThis was a thoroughly entertaining journey through Restoration England--an experience akin to thumbing through a scrap book. The story is told in bits and pieces. Letters, diary entries, recipes, pamphlets, invitations and other tidbits of the time period are woven together to make a lovely tapestry of the time period. The downside to this eclecticism, however, is that it lacked the strong storytelling coherence of a straightforward narrative.
I enjoyed this read as a thought experiment, as something new and different from a very talented author, but I'm not eager to repeat the experience. I'm left craving more intimacy with Nell Gwynn, something deeper of the woman and less of an overview of the time period. I look forward to seeing what Ms. Parmar can do using a more traditional style of storytelling, because she does her homework and she's got style.
If you're tired of the usual first person enumerative drudgery of some women's historical fiction, though, this is the book for you....more