In this novel, a young Roman girl’s future becomes derailed when Emperor Nero impregnates her in C.E. 61.
Sixteen-year-old Antonia Plautina sets out for Rome, four years after giving birth to Nero’s child, with the intention of persuading the emperor to acknowledge the little girl that resulted from the night he assaulted her. Nero raped Antonia when he visited her father’s house when she was only 12. Antonia’s pregnancy and the illegitimate child have brought such shame to her household that her family has gradually lost everything. As a last resort, Antonia enlists the help of the clan’s former slave, Nikolaos, and travels to Rome to confront the emperor. When Nero learns about his child, he worries his enemies will try to use the girl against him somehow. To ensure his daughter’s safety, Nero orders Antonia to marry Tiberius Claudius Togidubnus, a middle-aged Celtic king, and to relocate with him to his homeland in Brittania. Worse yet, Togidubnus is already married to another woman he adores. When Togidubnus protests, the emperor simply declares the existing union void, marrying the new couple instantly. After enduring a harrowing boat ride to the island of Brittania, Antonia is disappointed by the comparatively primitive conditions awaiting her there, and Togidubnus is devastated by the rift that this new arrangement necessarily causes between him and his former wife, Breca. Antonia and Togidubnus must figure out a way to move forward as allies despite their distress at being stranded with each other. As Antonia and Togidbnus are dealt one blow after another, this action-packed tale should keep readers engaged. Finch (Myths, Metaphors, and Science Fiction, 2014, etc.) employs a straightforward prose and provides rich history about the Roman Empire during the first century, focusing especially on the reign of Nero and the control he extended far beyond Rome. The many specifics about Roman architecture, city planning, and inventions lend authenticity to the tale (Togidubnus “loved the new white temples, the tall buildings housing apartments and inns, the wide straight streets, the bustle and country smells of the markets—ripe cheese, garlic, sausage—the aqueducts bringing fresh mountain water to the city’s flowing fountains”). In addition, the narrative is chock full of timeless human emotions.
A high-energy saga about love and betrayal filled with vibrant details about Roman history.