Fifth-century Europe is an uneasy mix of two emperors (an Eastern and a Western Roman Empire) and tribes of “barbarians” migrating west ahead of Attila the Hun’s army. Galla Placidia, half-sister of the Western emperor, is a pawn in the imperial games, and expects nothing better. She gets her chance to be more when, as hostage to the Goths, she and Ataulof, leader of the Visigoths, fall in love and marry. Happy as Queen of the Goths, Placidia is yanked back into imperial bondage when Ataulof dies; forced to marry again, Placidia becomes her husband’s champion in the murky tangles of court intrigue—and her son’s when he becomes emperor.
Married twice, daughter, sister, and mother of emperors, Placidia is no Livia from I, Claudius, but she’s no sensitive damsel, either. Placidia knows what she wants and is willing to do what she must to achieve her goals. She’s not a nice person, necessarily, but she is understandable and human. In short, this is solid historical fiction, with full marks for a little-used time period and setting. It totally gets extra points for giving us a female lead character who’s not written about to death (I’m looking at you, Anne Boleyn!).