Faith Justice's Twilight Empress is historical fiction about Italian aristocracy between 410 and 461 A.D. It is well researched and written with twisted plot developments and great characters. The protagonist, a little-known Roman Empress and Gothic Queen Placidia suffers loss, love and betrayal. Palace intrigue is almost like a secondary character. Her innate intelligence and tenaciousness are a winning combination but at the cost of great personal sacrifice.
As her Roman palace is overrun by barbarian Goths, Placidia is captured and spends the next few years in caravan life. She is treated with respect and honor, though she is still a captive. Classic Stockholm Syndrome plays out on the pages. She reluctantly falls in love with and marries her captor, the Goth general who soon becomes King and she the Goth Queen. They have a beloved son who dies of disease when only a few months old. A few months later, a begrudging junior officer assassinates the king, her husband. Losing her protector, she and few a loyal servants flee the Goths and seek refuge with her brother, the Roman Emperor.
Several years later, in her brother's court, Placidia marries a long-time admirer and has two more children. First, a daughter who equals her mother in cunning, intelligence, and an understanding of the intrigue of palace politics. Then she has a son who loves to play soldier, a sweet boy who lacks foresight as well as the necessary aptitude to be a strong ruler.
The threat to western civilization seems unstoppable and constant, thwarted only by Placidia's shrewd actions and clever schemes against treacherous generals and their palace spies. Her half-brother, Honorius, proves to be incompetent, and ambitious; traitors manipulate him to turn against his sister. Her tenacious resolve that her son follows his uncle as the next Emperor to rule the Roman Empire threads through the novel.
Placidia, the woman who for so many years ruled the strongest nation in western civilization as regent for her young son, suffers a series of strokes and dies with many regrets—amid much fanfare. Her biggest regrets are her self-perceived mistakes as a mother.
This is an excellent novel for those who know little about world history during the decline of the Roman Empire. Despite the many changes since then, the power of maternal love remains one of the strongest human connections.
Faith L. Justice writes award-winning novels, short stories, and articles in Brooklyn, New York. Her work has appeared in Salon.com, Writers Digest, The Copperfield Review, and the Circles in the Hair anthology. She is co-chair of the New York City chapter of the "Historical Novel Society," a frequent contributor to Strange Horizons, and Associate editor of Space and Time Magazine.
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