The Daughters of Palatine Hill by Phyllis T. Smith (Review)

Title: The Daughters of Palatine Hill
Author: Phyllis T. Smith
Genre: Adult, Historical Fiction
Publisher: Lake Union Publishing
Release Date: February 16, 2016
Pages: 416
Source: NetGalley
Format: E-Book
Rating: ★★★★☆

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?

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All book reviews I write are spoiler-free!
I discuss this book more in-depth (with spoilers) in my book discussion.

Rating: 4/5 stars

This is a historical fiction standalone that was published very recently – just last month. It’s set in Rome, in the period of Augustus’s ruling. I haven’t read many historical fiction books lately, so this book was a great change of pace for me. I came into the story not knowing anything about this specific Roman time period, but that just made the book more interesting for me. I learned so much and was thoroughly entertained.

The story is largely historically accurate. If you do not know much about this time period, I would recommend against looking it up before picking up this book, since it could spoil important plot points. For a historical reference, Augustus (who is referred to as Tavius throughout the book as a nickname) was the successor of Julius Caesar.

The chapters rotate through three female point of views: Livia, Julia, and Cleopatra Selene. Livia is the wife of Augustus. Julia is the daughter, and only biological child, of Augustus. Cleopatra Selene is the daughter of Cleopatra and Mark Antony. All three women are vastly different, so it’s fascinating reading about what each of them went through, and how it all tied in together. They all had captivating point of views that worked seamlessly together, and each woman had her own unique personality that was very well-developed and understandable.

In the Author’s Note at the end of the book, the author (Phyllis T. Smith) explained why she wrote this book in these three specific point of views. It was due to the fact that all Roman histories in this time were written by only men, who were misogynistic and biased in their writings about women. Therefore, certain women during this time period were painted as much worse people than they actually were. There are recent discoveries that support the inaccuracy of some written histories, so Phyllis T. Smith wrote from these three point of views to make the three women more relatable and their actions more understandable. It was wonderfully done.

I went through a myriad of emotions when reading this book. I constantly wanted to know what was going to happen next, and I found myself hoping for good things to happen since there seemed to be so many occurrences that were… Not so good. The story was very realistic, sometimes alarmingly so, and it was definitely different from the fantasy fiction that I tend to gravitate towards. There wasn’t a guaranteed happy ending for a lot of characters – it was just the way it was back then. I greatly appreciated how the individual stories of these people were made into a fluid narrative, but still stuck to the core facts.

The only real issue I have with the book is that I felt like the ending was rushed. Luckily, I was able to do my own research about certain scenes and learn more about what happened. That’s always a benefit of reading historical fiction.

The book starts out like a Young Adult novel, but time goes by very quickly in the story, and mature themes are introduced. I would only recommend this book to people who are comfortable with reading themes that (1) are sexual in nature, although there is nothing explicit, and (2) have political undertones. There’s no boring descriptions of politics, but politics needs to be kept in mind because the political environment is what drives a lot of what happens in the book.

I highly recommend The Daughters of Palatine Hill to readers who enjoy reading historical fiction and about the experiences and struggles that women went through. It’s very eye-opening and makes me very appreciative of my independence as a woman now. Since the writing itself is fast-paced, keep in mind that details are important to pay attention to since a year could go by in a paragraph.

I very much enjoyed this story and the emotions it brought me through. If you read this book, let me know what you think of it!

Disclaimer: This is my first NetGalley book! I received this book for free from NetGalley in exchange for an honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review. 

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