Though it’s been weirdly warm here in recent days, a couple of weeks ago it was gray and dreary and I kept shuffling around my bookshelves looking for a historical novel set in an exotic location to escape into. I really wanted to read another novel like Robert Harris’ Pompeii ; it really captures the heat and flavor of Roman life on the Bay of Naples so many thousands of years ago. So I was rather excited when I opened my inbox and saw that the Kindle daily deal was I am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith. Two thousand plus stellar reviews suggested that this might be the time travel vehicle I was looking for.
I do think it’s because I (unfairly) was comparing the book to Pompeii, but I really could not disagree with all those 2000+ people more. I am Livia was a ho-hum book. I read it quickly, but it did not satisfy my desire for an atmospheric immersion into another time and place and the writing felt rather stale. The book described the early life of Livia Drusilla and her rise to power as Augustus’ wife. However, the shrewdly political and perhaps murderous historical Livia was reinterpreted in this book as a misunderstood woman, someone who time would treat badly. At times, the book skittered on the edge of being romance novel but without any really good bodice rips. I finished the book as unsatisfied as when I started, though hoping even more that a writer with real flair and literary skill will give us a richer look at the life of Livia Drusilla as she is certainly a historical figure worth exploring and even re-imagining. Maybe Robert Harris could give it a go for me? If anyone has recommendations of good Roman historical novels–or a better look at the life of Livia, I’d love to hear about them!
2014, Lake Union Publishing