Gorgeous book! Thick in action and detail, crowded with rounded characters, who change with time and yet remain true to their nature. The Empress is full of love-and-hate relationships and this is the relationship it invokes in the reader, too. The characters are all both lovable and despicable, maybe with the exception of Titus and of course the honorable Marcus Norbanus.
I loved Vix for his bravado and courage, so closed my eyes to his shortcomings; loved Sabina and vouched for her and hated her at the same time; Loved Mirah, the wife character, who was also daring and sassy in her own way, a match for Vix, unlike Demetra – and yet wished her dead, but then was so glad that she survived. Hadrian was maybe the best of them – good and evil, cunning and sincere, a man of art and subtlety and cold sagacity at the same time – perfect representation of what we know the real Hadrian to have been – a controversy. I was glad that his preference to men, like Trajan's, wasn't central to the depiction of the character, which often happens in ancient period adaptations – really this wasn't that rare or that important as we would have it now. I loved Titus, too – such a great and funny character. Trajan is of course easy to love with all the praise he gets from everyone, as Plotina is easy to despise. I loved the cameo of Marcella and the reference to her scheming in the Daughters. The ending had me hopeful that a sequel is due but then I reread the beginning where Vix laments his killing the best friend he's ever had on the orders of the worst man he's ever known – so I guess he did kill Titus and this kind of makes sense.
The Empress teaches a very comprehensive history lesson with its masterfully unrolling story. It makes you feel at ease ‘walking’ the roads of the Roman Empire and almost eye-witnessing an enthralling period in Ancient history.
The book deserves praise on another account as well – it depicts an age that is often being overlooked. It’s so refreshing to read about someone else besides Caesar. This goes for the whole series by Kate Quinn. I am immensely grateful to her for bringing to life so many interesting historical figures. Somehow the period after August and Nero is easily forgotten. I actually discovered a lot of people thought the roman Empire started to fade after Caesar’s death. Nevermind a Golden Age or two. Maybe because this is the period when Christianity starts to become an important factor and hence the attention of history textbooks shifts towards it. Maybe because Hollywood is firmly settled on filming hardly anything before Spartacus’s revolt and after the burning of Rome (Gladiator being the notable exception).
The Empress turned out much more than the guilty pleasure I thought it would be. Strongly recommended!