Friday, June 6, 2014

I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith

Through the engrossing words of author Phyllis T. Smith, the world of Roman power, vice, lust and virtues unfold in I Am Livia.

Narrated by the title character, the great aims and foibles of her family, of Julius Caesar, Mark Antony and Cleopatra, and of Livia’s eventual husband, the future Emperor Augustus come to vivid life in this debut work of historical fiction. The author deftly reveals all aspects of Roman cultures, society and politics, in a depiction all the figures who shaped the empire that would dominate the Mediterranean region for centuries to come.

When the heroine Livia Drusilla is just fourteen years old, she overhears an assassination plan with more immediate consequences than a drastic change to Rome’s political future. To secure the alliance among conspirators, Livia must wed a Roman senator Tiberius Nero who is more than twice her age, whom she cannot love. The aspirations of Livia’s family cause them untold suffering, but also invites the scrutiny of a vengeful heir, Octavianus, whose primary purpose soon becomes clear as Rome devolves into outright civil war in the wake of the assassination. Livia attracts young Octavianus and the pair develop a potent rapport, although divided by family lines and affairs of state. Once he decides he will have her, regardless of their individual marriages and the children Livia shares with Tiberius Nero, Octavianus pursues Livia with the same relentless fervor as he did the assassins. The new couple shares grand designs for the country’s future coupled an unequalled passion for its future, but their prideful natures often get in the way of mutual efforts to keep their marriage bond, and Rome, strong.

The adage “history is written by the victors” has never been more appropriate than in consideration of this period in Rome. Livia gives us a unique view of the historical figures around her. The lens of her interests, jealousies and desires shapes the way in which each character appears, especially with Octavianus. She recognizes his cold, monstrous behavior in all its ugliness, yet holds steadfast to him and their love through several trials for her own purposes. But there are a few aspects of the heroine and her interactions with her loved ones and enemies, which don’t always ring true. For instance, it requires a bit of a stretch to believe a fourteen year-old girl, simply by conversations with her father, has such an intimate grasp of politic maneuvering and the repercussions for all involved in the murder plot. Also, the volatile nature of some established relationships, turning from hot to cold or vice versa seemed too sudden at times to make sense. Still, the capricious nature of the human heart and the ever-changing landscape of politics during this period make it all plausible.

I Am Livia is a delightful, well-researched and engaging story, ideal for readers who love Roman history, or dynastic intrigue.  
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