Review – Lady of the Eternal City
by Kate Quinn
This is not my usual sort of book. In fact, I’d go as far to say I’ve never read a book like this before, simply because I wouldn’t choose it myself at the library or book shop (I was sent an Advance Review Copy by the author because I’d enjoyed one of her previous works). I am very set in my ways when it comes to entertainment – I don’t watch horror movies, I don’t listen to pop music and, when it comes to novels, I like a lot of action. While there is some action here, the novel is centred around the relationships of the main characters, with Emperor Hadrian, his wife Empress Sabina, grizzled old soldier Vercingetorix and Hadrian’s (male) lover Antinous.
It’s a very long book and the thing I enjoyed most was the fact that I felt like I was learning a lot about this period of Roman history (I didn’t know much at all before this). It’s all told in such an interesting way, though, that you’re happy to be learning while engaging with the characters and their tangled, irrevocably intertwined fates.
As with any good book you will be rooting for your favourites while hoping that the “baddies” get what’s coming to them and, for the most part, you’ll be glad to see just that happening. However, Emperor Hadrian himself proves to be an extremely complex individual – I feared we were just dealing with a cliched, blacker-than-black murderous lunatic but I was wrong. I won’t spoil things but by the end of the book you realise each and every one of these people, particularly Hadrian, were just humans like you or I, with hopes and dreams and a dark side as well as a good side.
I felt sorry for all of them because they suffer so much but the end of the book leaves some room for hope, rather like the previous book of Kate’s that I read, A Day of Fire.
Overall, I have to be honest, I could have done with more people getting their teeth punched out – the most important relationship in my usual reading is the one between a hairy-arsed barbarian’s sword and his enemy’s face! But, as I say, Lady of the Eternal City is a long book and, when you have limited time to read as I do, the fact I enjoyed it enough to finish it speaks volumes for the skill of the writing and the strength of the story.
If you fancy a change of pace from endless brutality but still want a trip to ancient Rome then you should definitely pick this one up, I don’t think you’ll be disappointed!
Find out more in the Q&A I did with the author here.