Betray the Night: A Novel about Ovid
By the year 8 CE, Augustus Caesar has ruled Rome for over thirty years, and the Republic is slowly becoming an empire. In that year, a political conspiracy against Augustus results in the exile of the renowned poet Ovid to the far end of the empire. (Ovid says he was banished for “a poem and a mistake.”) Ovid realizes his only hope of returning to Rome is to leave his wife Pinaria behind to plead his case to Augustus. A good Roman wife, Pinaria obeys—and finds herself enmeshed in plots and counterplots as ancient families cling to their fading glory and new men struggle to rise to power. As Pinaria investigates the reasons for her husband’s banishment, she finds herself in danger from both political and personal enemies and finds betrayal where she least expects it.
Betray the Night is a compelling novel; the atmosphere of fear and repression is almost palpable. Pinaria’s growth from a traditional Roman matron, concerned only with the affairs of her household, to a politically and financially savvy woman, is convincing, as is the portrayal of ancient Rome in all its glory and squalor. The author’s meticulous research never interferes with her ability to tell a page-turner of a story. Fans of HBO’s Rome and PBS’s I, Claudius should enjoy this book. I have only one real gripe with it: the author’s decision to refer to the women of the Augustan house (soon to be the imperial family) as “princesses.” In a city where a man could be a god, but never king, seeing the word “princess” used to describe a high-born Roman lady made me wince every time I saw it. But other than that, it’s a terrific read.