A few years ago I read and loved Kate Quinn’s Mistress of Rome, but it had taken me some time to pick up this prequel. I really enjoyed the central love story in Mistress, so the larger and more scattered cast left me feeling less invested in Daughters.
Daughters of Rome takes place during the Year of Four Emperors, around 69 AD. Our main characters are the “four Cornelias”; four young women from a very prominent patrician family. Cornelia Prima is well- and happily married and poised to become Empress when her husband is to be named as the Emperor’s heir. “Cornelia Secunda”, Marcella, is unhappily married, and in the unfortunate position of being a female while interested in politics and writing the history of Rome. “Cornelia Tertia”, Lollia, the wildest of the women, is deeply devoted to her very wealthy former slave grandfather who marries her off numerous times before age 20 to secure the family’s political ties. “Cornelia Quarta” is Diana, the young, impetuous beauty obsessed with the chariot races and completely uninterested in the legions of suitors chasing after her.
During the violent and dangerous year, the ladies weather a revolving door of allegiances and spouses against the backdrop of a wealthy society in which they are expected to be obedient pawns. Quinn admirably gives our heroines ambition, strength, and power not afforded to women at the time but due to the large cast of one-note characters, it comes off a bit flat. There are enough bold and exciting scenes of chaos in the streets, chariot races, banquets, and affairs to make it fun, but this ultimately turns out to be an enjoyable but forgettable read.