Thursday, February 20, 2014

Review: I am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith (for HNS)

I am Livia

by Phyllis T. Smith

Lake Union Publishing
Publication Date: April 2014
410 pp
ISBN: 9781477848821

Livia Drusilla is a fourteen year old girl when she overhears her father planning the assassination of Julius Caesar.  Despite her young age her father favors her with political discussion and debate and Livia believes her life choices are for the good of Rome and not herself.  Her first sacrifice is in marriage to Tiberius Nero, a man her father needs on his side in the aftermath of Julius Caesar's assassination.  She resists the marriage, but finally submits for the future of Rome.  

Livia had never considered that a man could inspire true passion within her until she met the adopted son of Julius Caesar, Caesar Octavianus (later Caesar Augustus), called Tavius, a family nickname.  Without looking back Livia was ruled by her heart and in so doing went against every principle she had henceforth held dear and found herself united with man she thought to hate and fear; united not only in marriage but in a true partnership that would last fifty-one years.

Though Smith's setting is the perilous time of Caesar, Mark Anthony and Cleopatra her novel is driven by characterization.  Smith's Livia is such a dynamic character, so approachably human; at times fearless and forceful, but also merciful and just.  Smith, just as masterfully creates Tavius, history's Caesar Augustus, distinguishing the political figure from and at the same time illustrating the life of the man.  The historical backdrop of Rome becomes more approachable, less academic, when seen through the lives of the Smith's characters.

I am Livia is a wonderful journey to ancient Rome as well as an amazing thoughtful insight into one of its most influential and unconventional citizens.  

Review as appeared in:  Historical Novels Review, Issue 67, February 2014, published by the Historical Novel Society.

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