It turns out author Phyllis Smith felt the same way I did about the PBS series and Graves’ books. In fact, they led her to take a course on ancient Roman history—and a fascination with the period was born. One thing always bothered Phyllis, though: she thought the men who wrote the history books gave Livia a raw deal, so she wanted to offer her some historical justice. Was she the sociopathic monster of popular lore, or was there another side to the story?
The result of Phyllis’s inquiry is a highly polished and compelling tale of ancient Rome narrated by Livia Drusilla herself, wife of Caesar Octavianus, who defeated Marc Antony and Cleopatra in the Battle of Actium. OK, maybe she did make her first husband walk her down the aisle when she left him for Caesar, and a few children she knew might have met untimely deaths, but this Livia treats herself more kindly than history has. In fact, one of the things Phyllis is most proud of (and surprised by) is how writing the book in Livia’s voice gave her a certain empathy for her protagonist that many male historians have glossed over. The story becomes a fascinating study of a woman who learns to survive—not an easy task in her era, when all the “real” power was held by men.
I Am Livia is many things: a sweeping, sometimes shocking immersion in an intriguing period of history; a touching love story between two people who never really stood a chance; and, most important, the debut of a major new writing talent.
- Terry Goodman, Acquiring Editor