Summary (from Goodreads)
Claudia has a privileged life. Niece of Rome’s favoured warrior, she lives in luxury, surrounded by her family and tended by slaves. Gifted with second sight, her dreams tell her many things, from which gladiator will win the battle in the Coliseum to the secret enemies who plot against the Emperor. When Claudia falls deeply in love with a charismatic soldier known as Pilate, she determines to win his heart, whatever the cost.
Ignoring the warnings, she enchants Pilate with a love-spell and the pair are swiftly, blissfully, married. As wife to one of Rome’s rising stars, Claudia is admired and talked about, for her beauty, for her lavish parties and for her gift of the sight. Yet her dreams begin to trouble her… Rome is built on powerful, treacherous alliances, and while Pilate’s star continues to rise, shame and tragedy stalk Claudia’s family.
As a circle of betrayal and despair threatens to encompass her, Claudia realises her fate and future happiness is inextricably bound with a man who appears in her dreams, a man who wears a crown of thorns, a man she knows her husband must not condemn to death …
We are not in this world to live safely. We are here to fall in love and break our hearts.
In a nutshell, this book was nowhere as good as it could have been.
It’s always tempting when writing historical fiction, especially when your main character is a real person about whom not much is known, to fill their lives with famous connections. And this happens here, which isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it allows the author to tie into the story some of the major events of the period.
Even a few days after finishing the book, I can’t decide whether or not I like Claudia as she is portrayed in the book. There are some terrible events that impact on her and her family in the story, and whilst in these instances I felt for her, the rest of the time I couldn’t help but think her problems were of her own making. She does whatever she wants to get what she wants, which, I grant, is a very Roman quality, but when things go wrong she is full of self-pity and acts as if it wasn’t really her fault at all.
As for the other characters and their stories, I liked and felt for Marcella (her story would make a good standalone novel), and Agrippina was interesting, as was Pontius Pilate.
One problem I had with the book is that Claudia’s story is full of drama from the moment we meet her, and yet when Jesus is crucified the book suddenly stops. There’s a four-page epilogue that condenses down the next 35 years of her life and that’s it. I’m left wondering why…? The ending felt far too sudden.
There were plenty of aspects of the book that I enjoyed. The tour of the empire was fascinating. As the story unfolds we see Gaul, Rome, Alexandria, Antioch, Caesarea, Jerusalem, and more. Also, the story was entertaining, dramatic and fast-paced in places. The different religions of the time and how they did and didn’t get along were interesting to read about.
One of my favourite threads of the story was that of Claudia’s “gift”. I thought it was realistic to have it feature throughout the book rather than just at the end when her dream holds a warning for her husband.
This isn’t a bad book, but I am left feeling a little disappointed that it wasn’t a better one. Or that I didn’t enjoy it more than I did. That being said, I would recommend it to those who enjoy historical fiction, especially books set in the early years of the Roman Empire – the tour of the empire alone is well worth the read.