The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith: A Book Review

The Daughters of Palatine Hill
Author: Phyllis T. Smith
Genre: Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Pages: 412
Source: Netgalley/Publisher in exchange for an honest review.
Synopsis: Two years after Emperor Augustus’s bloody defeat of Mark Antony and Cleopatra, he triumphantly returns to Rome. To his only child, Julia, he brings an unlikely companion—Selene, the daughter of the conquered Egyptian queen and her lover.

     Under the watchful eye of Augustus’s wife, Livia, Selene struggles to accept her new home among her parents’ enemies. Bound together by kinship and spilled blood, these three women—Livia, Selene, and Julia—navigate the dangerous world of Rome’s ruling elite, their every move a political strategy, their most intimate decisions in the emperor’s hands.

     Always suppressing their own desires for the good of Rome, each must fulfill her role. For astute Livia, this means unwavering fidelity to her all-powerful husband; for sensual Julia, surrender to an arranged marriage and denial of her craving for love and the pleasures of the flesh; for orphaned Selene, choosing between loyalty to her family’s killers and her wish for revenge.

     Can they survive Rome’s deadly intrigues, or will they be swept away by the perilous currents of the world’s most powerful empire?

     My Review: The Daughters of Palatine Hill is the sequel to I Am Livia. The story is told through the perspective of three women; Livia, Emperor Augustus’s wife, Julia, Emperor Augustus’s daughter, and Cleopatra Selene, daughter of Mark Antony and Cleopatra. Three women each experience the cruelty of their Roman world. Each of them struggle to find their own happiness. However these three women soon find themselves caught up in the midst of political intrigue, and must make very hard choices.

     In the novel I Am Livia, we get to see Livia’s development from a young naive girl to a mature, smart, and capable young woman. In The Daughters of Palatine Hill, she has reached her maturity. She is politically adept and shrewd. She can be seen as cold and ruthless. However, she is loyal to her husband, Caesar Augustus, and has become his advisor. While she is wary of Cleopatra Selene due her to her parentage, she does see her younger self in her, and forms a kinship with her. She is also a loving mother to her children. She cares about her city and wants to restore peace and prosperity. I really did love Livia. She was Caesar Augustus’s conscience. She was his human side. She made her husband resort to acts of mercy for his enemies.

     While this book portrays Julia as a sympathetic character, I really did not like  her. This novel merely depicts her as a tool for her father to build the legacy of her empire. However, I did not agree with her actions. She was rebellious with her father, and it shows that her actions broke her father’s heart. Seeing how Julia has hurt her father really made me dislike her a lot because it was very heart-breaking reading it. Caesar Augustus loved his daughter and her betrayal really crushed his soul. While this book shows that Julia does this because she is lonely and that she wants to be with the man she loves, I still think that severing her ties with her father completely was not justified. Therefore, Julia seemed like a selfish character who does not think about the consequences she has on others.

     Cleopatra Selene was my favorite character in this book. She really had it hard. She watched her parents die and she was forced to live under her enemies household. She was a woman who suffered great pain, always wary of her enemies. She lives day to day as she wonders if Caesar Augustus will kill her any minute. She thinks only of survival, and gives her loyalty to Livia so she can live. She does fall in love with with Juba, a prince who also has lost his kingdom. The two are kindred spirits because they know what it is like to serve and live under their enemies. They become king and queen of Mauretania, and Cleopatra Selene wants to build a legacy of her forebears. However, with trouble stirring in Rome, Cleopatra Selene finds herself having to make tough decisions and sacrifices for the good of her kingdom.

     Overall, this novel is filled with love, loss, friendship, survival, choices, and sacrifices. This story is filled with political intrigue, drama, treachery, betrayal, and danger. The characters are very complex and interesting. I thought the novel was well-written. However, I wished that the story was not told from Julia’s perspective. I would have liked the novel to be told from two women, Livia and Cleopatra Selene. I also would have liked there to be more chapters on Cleopatra Selene. Still, the novel was very enjoyable, and it felt like Rome’s First family had come alive. After reading both I Am Livia and The Daughters of Palatine Hill, I am looking forward to reading more books by this author. I recommend this novel to those who are interested in reading about Caesar Augustus and Cleopatra Selene. This novel is also perfect for fans of HBO’s Rome and BBC’s I, Claudius.

Rating: 4 out of 5 stars

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