What’s it all about?:
IN THE ABSENCE OF HONOURABLE MEN, WHO WILL DEFEND ROME?
The body of a Vestal Virgin is dragged out of the River Tiber…
A senator bleeds to death in his bath…
And as the authorities turn a blind eye, Hortensia, daughter of the capital’s most celebrated orator, feels compelled to investigate a trail of murders that lead to the dark heart of Rome.
Flying in the face of her husband’s and father’s attempts to protect her, rebelling against the constraints imposed upon her sex, she is drawn ever deeper into the corrupt underworld that lurks in the shadows cast by the city’s all-powerful elite.
When fires begin to rage in the slums and more key witnesses are silenced, only one man can save Hortensia from becoming the next victim of a conspiracy to destroy the Republic: Lucrio, the damaged ex-gladiator to whom she already owes her life. Then the secrets of his own tragic past threaten to subsume them both…
What did I think?:
First of all, thank you so much to Duckworth Overlook Publishers for sending me a copy of the first novel in the Blood Of Rome series in exchange for an honest review. Ancient Roman history has always been one of my favourite things to read about and when I heard that this novel focused on actual figureheads of Rome in 70 BC combined with some crime fiction elements, I jumped at the chance to read a review copy. Overall, I thought this was a fascinating insight into Rome in the days when gladiators were still thrown to the lions, conspiracy was rife, the fight for ultimate power over the city was a constant seesaw of favour, women did not have a strong voice and, for many citizens in the country, standards of living were brutal.
Annelise Freisenbruch sets us up with the most wonderful female protagonist – determined and independent Hortensia, daughter of a famed public speaker in Rome and not adverse to a bit of public speaking herself, despite the controversy it causes in the novel. The story is set with two deaths, a senator who appears to have committed suicide in his bathtub and a Vestal Virgin who appears to have drowned. The difference between this and many other tales in the crime fiction genre is that we immediately know who the villains of the piece are, but what the author does very skillfully is ever so slowly revealing to us the reasons behind why their dastardly plans.
Hortensia becomes quickly embroiled in an intricate plot focused on corruption, greed, desire and above all, power and with the help of a gladiator called Lucrio and the Chief Vestal Virgin Cornelia, begins to unravel the more sinister side of Rome, exposing the lengths some men will go to to get exactly what they want. However, Lucrio too has some huge secrets in his past and this all ties in very neatly so that he can help his mistress, prevent the murderer from striking again and wreak his much longed for revenge.
It is obvious from the very start of this novel that the author has carried out meticulous research on these characters of Rome and she certainly knows her stuff. The characters, especially Hortensia and our villains (which I won’t spoil!) practically leap off the page with their vibrancy and I was certainly entranced by the complex plot but above all, the beautiful description of daily life in Ancient Rome. I think it’s fair to say that there were some points of the narrative that were slower than others but generally this was a highly enjoyable read. I adored the scenes in the court where Hortensia finally gets to show what she is made of and yes, I even did a little “silent cheer,” at her triumphs. If you’re at all interested in Rome or enjoy historical fiction with a slight gritty edge I would say definitely give this book a shot.
Would I recommend it?:
But of course!
Star rating (out of 5):