Tuesday, June 26, 2012

Empress of the Seven Hills/ His Last Duchess

Kate Quinn did an excellent job in writing Empress of The Seven Hills.  I have reviewed her other books; this is a sequel to Mistress of Rome.  I read this book very fast I practically devoured it I liked it so much.  Her books are easy to read and fast paced they keep you interested.  As usual, in my reviews, I will try to be brief but probably won't.  I also have spoilers because I can't help myself going into vivid detail.  This book follows the senator's daughter Vibia Sabina, also the daughter of a spoiled aristocrat.  She lives in the household of Marcus Norbanus, a good man who works for the emperor.  Vibia meets Vix, son of a Jewish mother who was a slave and a barbarian father.  He leaves his life in Brigantia and heads for Rome to find what is interesting there.  His dream is to own his own legion one day, and he ends up working in the household of Marcus Norbanus.  There he meets Vibia and they become lovers.  Her hand is up for marriage and many suitors visit for her hand.  Her father is letting her pick her suitor which is most unusual.

Titus is a bookworm and is encouraged by his father to sue for Vibia's hand in marriage.  She turns him down but instead they become the best of friends.  Titus keeps his crush a secret for the time being.  The book follows the three of them as they become intangled with the emperor Trajan.  Vibia ends up marrying Hadrian, the emperor's ward but not yet heir, because he promises her adventure to see the world and travel.  Vix joins the legions, aiming to be general one day.  Vibia goes along with Hadrian at the disapproval of her mother in law, so she can experience the campaign firsthand.  During the campaign she runs into Vix again and they become lovers once again.  Hadrian her husband is a hard worker but is homosexual so there is really no love there.  Hadrian and Vix are enemies from a fight years before, especially because Vix is a favorite of the emperor.  Hadrian serves as legate for Trajan's campaign so he is also working hard.  His resentment grows as Emperor Trajan promotes Vix higher up in the ranks.  The book takes you from Germania to Dacia and Parthia.  Vix is a complicated character- handsome, strong, ruthless, tumultuous in emotions, a leader.  He leaves a mistress behind that he gets pregnant and she ends up dying from childbirth.  He ends up raising her motherless son that is not his and shows some compassion there.  He ends up marrying and having children of his own.

I skim many details of the campaign but what is most intriguing about the book are the characters.  Vix like I said is quite a moody character that is sometimes abusive especially when he leaves his mistress while still in a relationship with Vibia.  Somehow you find yourself liking him despite all that, or at least wanting to know more.  Perhaps his interesting character comes from his parents.  The interesting but slightly odd thing is that the author writes about him from the 1st person whereas everyone else is written in the 3rd person.  I wonder if in this book she prefers the male characters over the female. You feel like you get to know him more that way, where Titus and Vibia kind of get lost sometimes.  Vibia is another complex character, cool and calculating and strong.  She doesn't seem the sort of person you would like either but you find yourself quite engaged.  Titus to me is the real strong but silent character, because he seems so romantic and has principles and seems to treat women with respect where Vix doesn't.  He is like Vix's conscience, the unlikliest of friends.  He kind of ties everything together with his views on the situations going on, balancing everything out.  I found myself applauding at the end when he ends up being named one of the Emperor's potential heirs to the throne instead of Hadrian.  Titus is always kind of in the background, not wanting much from life but he ends up near the forefront.

I liked this book because of the complex characters, some of who I didn't mention.  The evil mother in law Plotina, Hadrian her adopted son who I don't really delve into him.  The one thing I will mention besides the way the author wrote the charcters is that she didn't start the story with enough backgrounpd from Mistress of Rome so you end up being a little confused at the beginning until you get a grasp on the characters.  If you haven't read it first you might be a little confused at the parentage of Vibia and Vix.  The book ends with the death of the Emperor, who is quite a likeable character unlike many Emperors, with a nudge from his calculating wife Plotina; and Vibia who ends up pregnant with Vix's baby.  You find yourself mad at Vix for cheating on his wife when he finally seemed like a good guy, and wanting to know more at the same time.  You wonder if Vibia ever leaves Hadrian, if Titus will become Emperor with his love Fasutina, who is also Vibia's younger sister.  You wonder as well if Plotina is caught from her evil deed and if Hadrian and Vix have the big showdown we've all been waiting for.  I'm sure there is a sequel in the works.  I liked this book because I loved getting to know more about Rome and I enjoyed the campaigns and wars.

His Last Duchess by Gabrielle Kimm was not a favorite of mine, it took me time to get engaged in the storyline.  There was not enough of a plot to me and too much sex and passion.  I was expecting more of a historical novel and less of a romantic mystery.  I was drawn to it because of the last name Medici.  The book follows 16 year old Lucrezia de' Medici as she is married to the wealthy Duke of Ferrara, Alfonso d'Este.  He ends up being dangerous, mysterious and demanding.  Years go by and the marriage is never consummated, and he starts to fear that his title will be taken from him if there is no heir.  He is obviously mad and possibly bi polar; the author often delves into his mind and his crazy thoughts.  He keeps a mistress named Francesca who he takes his madness out on but it seems to keep him mostly stable.  Lucrezia ends up falling in love with a painter and plans a way to escape with him once his commission is done.  In the meantime, Alfonso also has his own sinister plans.  The book seems to plod along for some time then speeds up about 3/4 of the way through to an exciting and dramatic end.  The last bit was good and a page turner for me and somewhat redeemed itself.  The author based the premise of the book on a poem by Robert Browning's "My Last Duchess."  The author will write about Francesca in her next book, the duke's lover, and explores her character more in The Courtesan's Lover.  If you wish to find out more about Lucrezia I believe you could read The Second Duchess by Elizabeth Loupas, which is about Alfonsos' next duchess, which I have also blogged about.

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