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…
Kate Quinn has quickly become one of my favorite historical fiction authors. It's no small thing to weave a story with dozens of characters over three books and a forty-year time span and keep a reader hanging on every word. It takes true talent not only to bring history to life but to do so with (seemingly) effortless style and dignity. Kate now ranks among some pretty illustrious company on my shelf of honor, including Sharon Kay Penman, Elizabeth Chadwick, and Diana Gabaldon.
I have been dying to read Lady of the Eternal City ever since that cliffhanger ending of Empress of the Seven Hills. In that book, we watched as young Romans Sabina and Vix came of age as friends and lovers and then separated to follow their destinies, Vix to the legions and Sabina to the world of politics as wife of the rising legate Publius Hadrian. But their paths were fated to cross numerous times as Vix rose through the ranks and Sabina's husband became the favorite to follow Emperor Trajan.
This book opens with Hadrian's ascension to emperor and the execution of his rivals for the throne. Vix has been hardened by his hatred for the man he is forced to serve and the things he has been forced to do, and Sabina has become disillusioned and wary, hiding a huge secret from her increasingly erratic husband. The emotional tension in this novel runs at full-throttle as Hadrian cements his power, friends become enemies and enemies become friends, tragedy creates unlikely allies, and the future of an empire hangs in the balance. The plot is meticulously crafted from the beginning of Hadrian's reign to the end, encompassing war, religious strife, cultural awakenings, political machinations, and all of the very human emotions of the players who left their mark on the world during this time.
Possibly the strongest aspect of this series is the characterization. It's not easy to craft a tale around a dozen characters and carve out a place for each in the reader's heart, but Kate Quinn pulls it off. Beautiful and tragic Antinous, Hadrian's young beloved, who serves as the touchstone in this book around which Hadrian, Sabina, and Vix revolve. (The nature of Antinous's death is still one of history's enduring mysteries.) Hadrian, who morphs from mild-mannered husband to terrifying villain and, astoundingly, to sympathetic hero. Future emperors Titus (Antoninus Pius) and Marcus Aurelius. Vibia Sabina, the young adventuress whose fire is dimmed over time by duty and a repressive marriage to a dangerous man, but who rises again as an empress, a mother, and a lover. Annia, the headstrong young girl whose future will surpass her wildest dreams. These historical figures are brought to life as real people in all of their flawed glory.
And of course, Vix. The fictional Vercingetorix the Red is one of my favorite heroes in literature. He tries so hard to be what others expect him to be, but at his heart, he's a soldier and a son of Rome, and he can't deny the call of his devotion. It was heartbreaking to watch as his life unraveled and as he and Sabina made sacrifices for the good of the empire they both loved, and for the soul of the man they both despised yet could not turn away from. To watch them come full circle during this tale's stunning and heart-pounding conclusion at the end of Hadrian's reign was poignant and oh-so-satisfying.
You don't have to read Mistress of Rome first (though I highly recommend it as it tells the tale of Vix's and Sabina's parents and sets the political and historical stage for what's to follow), but you should definitely read Empress of the Seven Hills before reading the epic conclusion in Lady of the Eternal City. This is historical fiction at its finest. This is gritty and gripping storytelling that seamlessly weaves fact and fiction with fantastic characterization, transporting ambiance, and overarching themes of love, friendship, duty, and honor. This series is an absolute must-read for lovers of historical fiction and ancient history, and for anyone who loves a damned good story. I really can't sing its praises high enough. These books have earned a permanent place on my shelves and in my heart. Brava, Kate Quinn, brava!
My Rating: 5 Stars out of 5
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