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Twilight Empress (The Theodosian Women) (Volume 1) Paperback – May 8, 2017
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"Rebound" by Kwame Alexander
Don't miss best-selling author Kwame Alexander's "Rebound," a new companion novel to his Newbery Award-winner, "The Crossover,"" illustrated with striking graphic novel panels. Pre-order today
In her latest historical novel, Justice (Sword of the Gladiatrix, 2015, etc.) examines the life of little-known Roman empress Placidia.
In the fifth century, the Roman territory of Ravenna in northern Italy is sacked by the Goths. Young Princess Placidia is captured and held as a "guest" in the Goths' royal court so that she can be used as a negotiation tool with the Romans. The author creates great tension as readers follow Placidia to the Gothic land, where she's taken care of by Queen Gaatha, the wife of Alaric, king of the Goths. After a series of events that warms Placidia to the barbarian tribe, she finds herself falling for Ataulf, Gaatha's brother, who takes control of the Goths after Alaric falls dead of a fever. Alaric's and others' demises come rather abruptly, but the book is an addictive read, as Justice chooses her key moments wisely, weaving a decades-long narrative about Placidia's layered life as she rises to eventual leadership. The opening scenes make clear that as a woman, Placidia's bloodline is her most useful asset in ancient society.
The author does a fine job of delicately underlining the limits of female governance during the period, creating sympathy for the heroine, whose only option is to rule through men. The sharp protagonist effectively navigates the politics surrounding her incapable brother, as well as conspirators, tragic deaths, and war, all while trying to save the nearly deflated Roman Empire. Justice shies away from in-depth political and geographical history, which keeps the novel from feeling like a historical lesson; however, at times, the text feels rushed, with myriad new names constantly appearing. If the author had allowed the various characters a little more room to breathe, it would have added more richness to the book. That said, the prose is tight and clean throughout, and the characters' missions are always clear despite the complexities of the situations.
A fun, fast read with some history and feminist themes thrown in.
From the Back Cover
One woman battles the coming Dark Ages.
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Full disclosure – I was about a fifth of the way through Twilight Empress when I started to get the feeling the story was familiar. I finally remembered that I read another book about Placidia (Nobilissima by Carrie Bedford) a few years ago. All credit to this author’s skill that I didn’t feel the story I was reading was rehashing old ground. In fact, what I really liked was the way the author breathed life and personality into the characters around the bare bones of the known historical facts.
The story opens with the sacking of Rome and capture of Placidia, sister of the Western Roman Emperor Honorius, by King Alaric of the Goths. Alaric hopes to use Placidia as a bargaining chip to persuade Honorius to grant the Goths land and food in return for peace. This method of negotiation will become very familiar as the book progresses since this is a story characterised by intrigue, betrayal, political manoeuvring, treachery and murder. But it is also a convincingly told human story of love and loss set against larger political events.
The message that emerges is a universal and seemingly eternal one: that the source of most conflict is a desire for security, for enough food and a place to call home and in which to raise a family. As if we needed reminding, it also recalls that when the powerful plot and scheme, it is the ordinary people that suffer.
In Placidia, the author gives us a convincing picture of a strong, capable woman with as much courage, guile and intellect as any of her male contemporaries but with the misfortune to be born a woman in an age when – even as a member of the Imperial family – that consigned her to the role of wife and mother. Although not conventionally beautiful (for the times), it seems these characteristics, and her innate contradictions, made Placidia particularly attractive to men because she inspired lifelong devotion in many of them.
This remarkable woman outlived two husbands, survived capture and imprisonment, navigated her way through political intrigue and frequent plots against her, dying eventually of old age but not before she had seen off plenty of enemies, either by outwitting them or by more violent means: ‘You forgot I am a princess, raised in the Imperial court. Treachery and betrayal were my tutors and playfellows. Revenge is not only a Gothic custom.’
I really enjoyed reading her story in Twilight Empress.
Placida is a force to be reckoned with. I am so happy I got the chance to learn about her life. Even though women were not allowed to rule in their own right, Placida managed to keep Rome together in its dying days. I was amazed by her patience and willingness to understand and learn from the Goths when she was originally captured instead of just fight back. She seemed to continually look at decisions long term and for the good of her people and land. The story follows Placida from a young women to her death. I very much enjoyed watching her grow and seeing how she hand a hand in political decisions through her brother, both of her husbands and her son. As conflict rose throughout the territories and Placida aged, Placida's job became more and more difficult. Through the writing, I got a wonderful sense of Placida's character while sticking to the history of the time period. Overall, a breathtaking and immense journey through one inspirational and impactful woman's life in Rome.
Our main character, Placedia, is fierce. There’s no getting around that. So if you like a strong woman, you’re going to love her. Granted, women weren’t really allowed to rule in their own right, but if it weren’t for her, Rome would have fallen apart. Even when captured, her strength and patience were legendary, in my opinion. Rather than planning an escape, she learned from the Goths and used this knowledge in life. She also gained their respect, married and forged a life there until her brother saw it as a political move by the Goths.
In a world where men dominate everything, she was a joy to read about and to learn about. It follows Placedia from being a young woman to her death; so you do learn what becomes of her and of her life. Though a fictional adaptation, one does get a sense and feeling of who Placedia really was. This one of those novels where I remember why I love historical fiction as much as I do. Rich and full of detail, but never boring, The Twilight Empress is an absolute delight to read and I can’t wait for the next in the series.
This is truly a sumptuous treat for bookworms and historical fiction lovers.