I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith

Posted May 1, 2014 in Book Review / 7 Comments

I Am Livia by Phyllis T. SmithI Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith
Published by Lake Union Publishing on March 22nd 2011
Genres: Historical Fiction, Romance
Pages: 376
Format: eBook
Source: Amazon
Buy on Amazon
Her life would be marked by scandal and suspicion, worship and adoration…
At the tender age of fourteen, Livia Drusilla overhears her father and fellow aristocrats plotting the assassination of Julius Caesar. Proving herself an astute confidante, she becomes her father’s chief political asset—and reluctantly enters into an advantageous marriage to a prominent military officer. Her mother tells her, “It is possible for a woman to influence public affairs,” reminding Livia that—while she possesses a keen sense for the machinations of the Roman senate—she must also remain patient and practical.
But patience and practicality disappear from Livia’s mind when she meets Caesar’s heir, Octavianus. At only eighteen, he displays both power and modesty. A young wife by that point, Livia finds herself drawn to the golden-haired boy. In time, his fortunes will rise as Livia’s family faces terrible danger. But her sharp intellect—and her heart—will lead Livia to make an unbelievable choice: one that will give her greater sway over Rome than she could have ever foreseen.
Main Points
Review Intro
I don’t even know where to begin with this book. I loved it so much. It was such a long roller coaster ride. I’ve always kind of liked historical fictions (I’ve previously read The Paris Wife and The Secret Life of Josephine: Napoleon’s Bird of Paradise) but this book really convinced me that I LOVE them. I can’t get enough of them. It’s just so much fun to find out at the end how much of it was real and then be in a state of overawed disbelief for a few minutes. People in the past had such interesting lives!
Also, I love the cover. Can’t get enough of it. So mysterious and lovely!
Writing Style:
It actually reminded me of my own kind of writing. It was certainly a bit objective at times when other, more sentimental women may have been more emotional. Towards the end, Livia calls herself womanishly emotional but for a good part of the book, she wasn’t at all. But I’ll talk about that later. I will say one thing- she (the narrator, Livia) switched quite rapidly between political talk and romantic talk. It kind of meshed together at times. You had to kind of marry the two concepts together in your mind and try to understand that that’s what their life was. You can’t be overruled by passion when you are the leaders of a new empire. 
Perhaps halfway through the book you realize that older Livia is narrating, and she is looking back on events of her life. Occasionally she will drift into the present and tell you who’s coming over to her house, and what her children and grandchildren are like, but not really any major spoilers, and for that I am grateful. I was worried that she might reveal something (besides the fact that Livia lived to an old age) and considered skipping the present sections. But I didn’t and it was okay.

We start with young Livia, and politics. We find out she is not like most other girls, and that trait becomes a theme throughout the book. While young Livia and grown Livia are both interested in politics, there is still a lot of growth for her. She admits it herself, at one point saying ‘I can’t say that now, but younger Livia would have said that.’ (paraphrased) Basically, she has the same thoughts, but has the tact to hold her tongue.
Yes, I would say young Livia is a bit naive. There is the usual drama of arranged marriage to an older man, but Livia does admirably. I won’t worry about spoilers here because a lot of the book is true to history and anyone can look it up. (I did after reading to see how much was fact and how much was fiction.) But I was impressed that Livia was so faithful a young wife despite her rebellious thinking. She even grew to be friends with her first husband and that friendship lasted forever, even after her second marriage…
I confess I knew it would turn out how it did along the lines of Caesar. It may not have been love at first sight (or obvious LAFS anyway) but it happened. Mostly the hesitation was due to years apart, years in which a lot of war and tragedy happened, but also due to Livia’s internal conflicts. It is hard to put aside the fact that the man you feel an undeniable attraction to is a bit merciless and the cause of much bloodshed and your entire family considers him an enemy- but hey, forbidden love is romantic, right? And what Caesar wants, he will have.
I took the liberty of composing a timeline of quotes illustrating Livia’s changing feelings towards Caesar through the years. See the quotes section below.
But let’s talk about that for a minute. The mere INTENSITY of the attraction. Of their love. It’s QUITE a love story. In fact, I name them couple of the year. After you get past the fact that she denied her attraction to him for a long time because of the wrongness of it- and her family loyalty- and you knew she was going to fall for him in the end, and that for him it was pretty much love at first sight, there’s a whole nother layer of complication. This is the Roman Empire era we’re talking about. This is when women still don’t have rights or opinions or power and very little political sway and are expected to be dutiful and obedient wives. Livia was anything but a malleable young wife. She knew she was going to use her influence to politically better Rome in any way she could. Not exactly what a future Roman emperor would look for in a wife, is it? But you want to believe Caesar will accept her and approve of her ambition. He seems to, but for a long time he just kind of goes along with it as if it’s a joke. Livia is very good at using their relationship to plant little ideas in Caesar’s head that end up affecting his decisions, but she does it subtly so he doesn’t have cause to question. Eventually he comes to realize that she is never going to change, that she has a brilliant mind, and that he can’t rule without her. They are truly a team. But in the beginning it’s a little sad knowing he still has that old mindset that women are inferior.
Now, you know how I always say that you can’t be 100% positive it’s true love unless it’s tested at some point or other? Well, it is tested here. There are periods of doubt. And then there’s one big falling out…and I admit, I was truly scared. I didn’t know enough about history to be sure how it ended. I wanted them to be together more than anything. I couldn’t bear it when Livia put on a brave face and pretended it didn’t matter if they divorced, because Tavius (Caesar) deserved a wife who could bear him heirs and it was for the good of Rome….sometimes, I thought her fortitude was too much. She was too objective about such emotional things. Tavius WANTED reassurance, Livia! His letters, cold though they may have seemed, were secretly begging to know that you loved him…even if you were too proud to apologize, he wanted you to apologize so you could be together again! How could you not see that?
Livia was proud. Tavius was proud. There were times when that pride got in the way. But underneath it all, they were truly in love for life. Even after the discovery that Livia wouldn’t be able to bear him any sons, and they might not have an heir. He did not desert her. He would rather have given Rome over to someone else than let her go. And in ancient Rome…….that’s love. If anything could convince you, that would be it. That’s love and no question about it.
This book was an emotional roller coaster. It was long. It was very political. There were periods of peace and periods of war. Periods of defeat and periods of triumph. Even when you knew who the bad guys were, you didn’t want war. Livia didn’t want war, and her mood spread. Even when you didn’t agree exactly with what Caesar was doing….even when you saw him at his most merciless, his most bloodthirsty…you wanted victory for him. Even when he was cruel and rude, you wanted Livia to convince him to make the right decision and make things better. You wanted them to stay together, and for Rome to be at peace. It was a very persuasive story.
Alliances changed left and right. The good guys became the bad guys and vice versa. Sometimes they switched more than once. It was hard to tell who to root for because of the political implications. But it was always explained because Livia and Tavius were very calculating people who always thought through every possibly outcome. There was no shortage of intrigue.
Ancient Rome! It was interesting to see what was the same (or similar) as modern day and what was obviously very different. Also, there was a lot of diction applicable only to Ancient Rome that I had to look up. Thank goodness I was reading it on my Kindle so it was quite easy.
First, here’s the timeline I mentioned.
“When a married woman looks at another man the way I look at you, hasn’t she said far, far more than she should?” (page 42)
“My heart went out to him. I wished that, instead of being in my place with my family, I could go and stand beside him.” (page 59)
“Now when I remembered the attraction I had felt for Caesar Octavianus, I recoiled. But strangely enough, I still could not help putting myself in his place.” (page 83) (not love, yet, but empathy at least)
“I was sure he [Caesar] gave Father a funeral for my sake. This did not make me think well of him. It was just knowledge I could not escape.” (page 84) (begrudging acknowledgment)
“How strange it felt to be in a town besieged by a young man with whom I had chatted at my father’s dinner table, a young man to whom I’d felt attraction. I wanted to plead with him, Why must we have this conflict? Can’t you call off the siege and go away?” (page 96) (stupid politics has to go and ruin everything!)
“Despite that, and despite all that had transpired since I had last set eyes on Caesar, I felt a pull looking at him. Oh, I felt it, immediately and intensely. Even with that repulsive beard, he was as beautiful to me as any statue I had ever seen of the god Apollo.” (page 125) (now we’re getting somewhere)
“We were having a staid conversation about religion and poetry. I imagined the two of us alone. I imagined him making love to me. He no longer smiled. His lips were parted, and his gaze had an intensity it had not held before. I felt he had read my mind.” (page 130) (just feel the tension between these two)
“At that moment, I thought of my father and mother. As soon as I did, the sight of Caesar, happy and at ease at my table, seemed more than I could bear. The desire I felt for him revolted me.” (page 132) (a backwards step)
“I was sinking in the muck. Because I could not look at him without desiring him.” (page 134) (goodness, girl, it’s not that bad!)
“But when I was in his presence, I felt an emotion deeper than lust. That was what was most awful- that I felt inexplicable tenderness for a man who had helped to kill my father.” (page 147) (it’s not all about lust, you know. This is what I was looking for- that deeper connection)
“Enfolding me in his arms, he said, ‘I keep thinking this great happiness is not for me, that it’s going to be snatched away.'” (I’ve learned to beware this feeling)
After that, it gets more emotional and it’s clear they are in love. But wasn’t that a roller coaster? And that’s just a sample of the quotes!
And here are some important ones.
Realization: “I would not be fifteen forever, but I always would be a woman.” (page 51)
On the conflict of loyalty to her father or to Caesar: “I loved my father. But if Caesar died in the coming battle, I would weep.” (page 80)
This is where it suddenly hit me how sad it is, the concept of never seeing someone again. Ever. Without a proper goodbye or send off. “…we did not have Father’s body to tend and could not even expect it would be treated with honor by the victors.” (page 82)
More torn loyalties: “What made matters worse- what had me sick with despair- was that my husband’s allegiance, and therefore mine, had to be with Antony in a battle in which right and justice were with Caesar.” (page 90)
“And yet it pulled at my mind: a woman wielding unvarnished political power.” (page 95)
Blasphemy? “I do not care if Caesar rules or Antony does. We must have peace.” (page 97)

I finished the book crying. I admit. I was sobbing in class (I finished this at school). There was such emotion at the end. It was perfect. The ending was a good one, surprisingly. There was a lot of doubt. In fact, I kind of felt like the whole story was very drawn out until the end, where it kind of rushed to a close. I was kind of in history book mode for a lot of it, so when I reached the end, I was wondering ‘well what happens afterwards? Come on, tell me the rest!’ It was a happy ending but I still wanted more. I finished and immediately decided I wanted to know more about Cleopatra, so I’ll be reading a historical fiction on her at some point. She didn’t have a particularly flattering role in the book (or in life) but I know her story is an interesting one, made all the better because it’s real.

Good vs. Bad



  • historical accuracy and believability
  • characters
  • writing
  • setting
  • romance
  • political intrigue
  • emotional factor
Less than perfect:
  • length/pacing

Bottom Line
This book is one of my favorites. It is quite an emotional investment, but it has a lot of political intrigue and historical accuracy. The characters are amazingly 3-dimensional and the setting is described well. The romance is a roller coaster of passion and loyalty and doubt, but the ending is happy. Would I read more by this author? Yes. She has mastered the art of historical fiction. Would I recommend this book to others? Most certainly.

About Phyllis T. Smith

Phyllis T. Smith was born and currently lives in Brooklyn, New York. After obtaining a bachelor’s degree from Brooklyn College and a master’s degree from New York University, Phyllis pursued a practical career in computer applications training, yet found herself drawn to literature and art of the ancient world. I Am Livia is her first novel. She has another novel set in ancient Rome in the works.

Overall: five-stars


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7 Comments on "I Am Livia by Phyllis T. Smith"

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Jillian Lopez

Sounds so interesting! I love historical fictional books like The Book Thief (which is one of my all time favorites). I hope I can get my hands into this one soon :)

Jillian @ Jillian’s Books

Alicia the Awesome

Yeah I agree about the Book Thief- I reviewed it a while ago and loved it too. And you should definitely read this, you’ll love it! It’s amazing.