Annia is only a girl in this novel, but I have no doubt (at least I hope!) she'll be in a future novel, kicking butt and taking names--or maybe busting more nuts, literally.
Sabina is Empress, married to an emperor with foul moods, a thirst for blood, and a desire for his own sex. It's an unusual marriage. How she withstands the moods, the tiptoeing, the loneliness...is beyond me, but she does. As the hero's father says to him one day, a true soldier bides his time... I think that's what she does. Because she never comes off weak or out of control. A pillar of strength, she is.
The story periodically strays to Vix, her former lover and the emperor's main "bodyguard". I confess my mind began to stray when it focused on Vix. I didn't care about Judea or its war or his wife or daughters or even the arguments between him and the emperor. It just didn't interesting me as much as Annia....my favorite character in the entire novel, a little girl who loves to run, who busts nuts, who say the wittiest things, and stands up to anyone.
There's an angry emperor, a war, a wall being built, travels, temples, romance, secrets, feisty females, and there's also a murder. Who did it? Why? What will happen to those who find out? The ending is a rush of a excitement that readers will not soon forget.
I also felt that this novel showed different marriages very well. You can be married to your best friend and not feel desire. There's no shame in it. You can be married to someone you have nothing in common with and yet still desire. Vix and his wife wanted different things and in the end, one could not accept the other. Perhaps it wasn't intended, but I began to muse on marriage and how we mustn't want to change our partners but accept them for who they are, much like Sabina and the emperor do.
It's a long book, over 500 pages, and I could reveal more, but I don't wish to spoil it for anyone. Suffice it to say, the writing is well done, the sexual scenes and relationships revealed tastefully, and the history--while I am not an expert on Rome, I can say that I was transported. I was in the story. I was running through the vineyards with Annia, lounging with Antinous and Hadrian on the couch. I was able to transport myself from 2015 Utah to 100-something A.D. Rome. And while it didn't interest me as much, the war in Judea, I walked away having learned much.
I'd also like to add that I have not read books two and three. (Though book two is on my wishlist now!) and yet, I did not "miss a beat" as the saying goes.
I received this from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.