I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith

July 15, 2014 Historical Fiction, Reviews 0 ★★★★

I Am Livia by Phyllis T. SmithI Am Livia by Phyllis T Smith
Published by Lake Union Publishing on May 1, 2014
Genres: Historical Fiction
Pages: 390
Format: eBook
Source: Amazon First Look
Goodreads
four-stars
At the tender age of fourteen, Livia Drusilla overhears her father and fellow aristocrats plotting the assassination of Julius Caesar. Proving herself an astute confidante, she becomes her father’s chief political asset—and reluctantly enters into an advantageous marriage to a prominent military officer. Her mother tells her, “It is possible for a woman to influence public affairs,” reminding Livia that—while she possesses a keen sense for the machinations of the Roman senate—she must also remain patient and practical.

But patience and practicality disappear from Livia’s mind when she meets Caesar’s heir, Octavianus. At only eighteen, he displays both power and modesty. A young wife by that point, Livia finds herself drawn to the golden-haired boy. In time, his fortunes will rise as Livia’s family faces terrible danger. But her sharp intellect—and her heart—will lead Livia to make an unbelievable choice: one that will give her greater sway over Rome than she could have ever foreseen.

I received this book for free from Amazon’s First Look program which is open to all Prime members.

Pulling from historical record, Ms. Smith creates a wonderful fictionalized account of the turbulent life of a young Livia Drusilla, wife of Rome’s first emperor, Octavian, also known as Augustus Caesar.

The book opens close to the eve of Julius Caesar’s assassination – unhappy senators are plotting his death and the return of the ideal Roman Republic.  Livia’s father is amongst these men as Livia stands on the outskirts trying to figure out what is going on and how everything will play out for her family.  Even at this young age, Livia shows the promise of the political shrewdness and calculating demeanor she will become known for in years to come.

Not a great deal is known about Livia, although certainly more than most other women of the time.  She is often villainized in popular culture (see “I, Claudius”) for her cold, cunning demeanor and supposed use of poisons to get her way when diplomacy fails.

However, I am Livia presents a more sympathetic, human side to Livia’s character.  We get to see the intelligent young girl learn what it means to love and be a wife, the young woman grieve the loss of family as she begins to make a family of her own, and the Emperor’s wife struggle to run an empire spanning most of the known world while faced with the potential crumbling of her passionate marriage and loss of a husband.

I felt the book was slow to start.  In fact, I put this down for quite a while before coming back to finish it.  There is a lot of time jumps and glossing over of detail through the book, but since the book spans about 15 years of Livia’s life and is written as if this was an older Livia’s documenting her memoirs, this style actually works really well.  The cast of characters here is simple and easy to follow and the book comes to a natural, almost seamless conclusion.

I Am Livia is rich in historical detail without feeling like a textbook.  The story is an emotional and compelling look at one of the most powerful and influential woman in Ancient Rome.

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