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Reviewed by Colleen Turner
Novels about Ancient Rome and Egypt seem to be all the rage right now and for someone like me who loves historical fiction but hasn’t had the opportunity to read much set during this time and these places, I am loving the trend. Livia Drusilla, the much maligned wife, mother and grandmother to Roman Emperors, is the narrator of I Am Livia and through her voice the reader gets a front-row seat to the danger, drama and political upheaval during Rome’s evolution into an Empire.
The novel is set up as Livia’s reflections on her life as she begins to come to the end of it. She is hoping to explain her actions to the gods, both the good and the bad, setting the record straight and dispelling the rumors of murder and treachery that have followed her rise in power and influence. While I found this confessional style interesting and enjoyed the way it lent itself to presenting a better-rounded, complex Livia than perhaps history remembers her as, it also came across as dry at times. I always prefer stories that immerse me in the action and drama, making me feel a part of what is going on instead of simply telling me what happened and much of I Am Livia did the latter. There are some wonderfully descriptive and emotional passages that kept me engrossed and made me begin to really see Livia as a fully fleshed, fascinating woman with brains and a heart but those were sometimes lost within a lot of descriptions of setting and justification of the actions of the characters.
Livia begins her story days before Julius Caesar is assassinated as she overhears her father discussing the plot with other powerful men and soon proves to be intelligent and politically savvy beyond her mere fourteen years. Raised in a noble family with an indulgent father, Livia is well educated and has always hoped to become more than simply a wife and mother. But being the loyal daughter that she is, she agrees to marry her father’s ally, Tiberius Nero, and sets out to make the most of her marriage and influence her new husband however she can while providing him his children. But when she meets Octavianus, the adopted heir of Julius Caesar and the enemy to her father and husband, she cannot deny their mutual attraction. Pulled in two separate directions, one way by duty and the other by her heart and ambition, Livia has to make some heartbreaking decisions in her quest for happiness and influence and her road to find both is paved with both regret and joy. Through it all, Livia will work tirelessly to improve the conditions of the Roman citizens and to live up to the person she has always known she was meant to be.
Livia’s story wraps up rather abruptly and right when I was really starting to enjoy the complicated yet loving relationship between Livia and Octavianus. It felt real and messy and I wanted so much more of this well matched, fully developed pair and would have preferred more of this and less of Livia waiting for Octavianus to come home safe from his various wars. Still, turning the last page I found myself continuing to think about the life Livia was born into and the remarkable changes she helped make during her lifetime. I Am Livia has stoked my interest in this fascinating woman and I’m excited to see what else the author might offer in the future.
Colleen lives in Tampa, Florida with her husband, son, their dog Oliver and their fish Finn. When not working or taking care of her family she has her nose stuck in a book (and, let’s face it, often when she is working or taking care of her family as well). Nothing excites her more than discovering a new author to obsess over or a hidden jewel of a book to worship.
Review and giveaway copies were provided by Lake Union Publishing. No monetary or any other form of compensation was received.