Interview: Kate Quinn

andy
March 26, 2015
This article was published more than 2 years ago.
Est. Reading Time: 3 minutes

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By: Nimra Khan

In the two years since I last spoke to historical fiction writer Kate Quinn about her book Empress of the Seven Hills, she has had time to work on its sequel, Lady of the Eternal City, which came out on March 3rd. It surpassed all her other efforts based on subject matter, characters, and plot. In short: I loved it.

Empress of the Seven Hills follows the trio of Vix, Sabina, and Titus from the previous book one year later. Hadrian, now Emperor of Rome, is engrossed in his new plans for the Empire, leaving little time or respect for his wife, Empress Sabina. He’s earning the reputation of a ruthless, untrustworthy emperor, and Sabina needs to find a way to control that side of him. Vix is serving as the Emperor’s “dog”, forced to jail his friends on the Emperor’s command and possibly kill his best friend Titus. The lives of these three friends that I grew to love in the previous books continue to get entangled in a flurry of schemes revolving around Hadrian. Along with the addition of a few new faces, the views of many different characters are effortlessly woven together.

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Quinn said, “ I’ve always liked complicated interwoven plots, so perhaps I’m just getting used to it by now? To be honest, I’m very glad you thought I pulled it off, because this book was the book from hell in many ways. Many plots, many characters, many historical threads, and...many headaches while writing.”

Emperor Hadrian was hailed as a man with many masks, and someone who was hard to pin down. Quinn said that Hadrian was the most surprising and contradictory historical figure in her research. “Almost every character trait he had was bracketed by its exact opposite: he was a cynical mystic, an artistic man of science, a scholarly warrior, an animal-loving hunter, and a man of mercy with a cruel streak. I still have no idea if my version is anywhere near to the truth—and that’s what makes him fascinating.”

I was surprised to find so many serious topics so deftly woven into the story, including homosexuality, rape, misogyny, and religion. For instance, Quinn boldly tells the story of the love between two men (one of them being the Emperor), the backlash they face from society, and the very real legacy they leave on Rome. Quinn explained that she has wanted to write a more central gay male romance for a long time, “precisely because it would give the chance to explore the issues we face today through a lens of Roman culture, which at first seems much more lenient than our own, but is revealed to have its own set of prejudices. Ancient Rome didn’t have homophobia the way we do today; they didn’t have words for ‘gay’ or ‘lesbian’ as states of identity, just words for individual homosexual acts. And Roman men especially could face a lot of condemnation if they were perceived as ‘taking the woman’s role’ in a male-male relationship.”

I was also surprised that Hadrian and his lover’s story was never something I’d read or heard about. Given his stature, why wasn’t Hadrian’s love story as commonly known as some other historical figures’ dalliances? Quinn explains, “There was a lot of embarrassment from historical scholars of the past in studying Hadrian, because you cannot write about him without writing about the male lover he adored so publicly. Their romance—and by effect, Hadrian’s reign—had something of a scholarly blackout for a long time, but thankfully, that view is changing and we are seeing a lot of scholarly work done on Hadrian’s remarkable reign. We are also starting to see a good deal more LGBTQ characters in mainstream romance...and not just as ‘the heroine’s gay best friend’ or ‘the hero’s lesbian cousin,’ but getting their own stories as protagonists.”

Although many characters in this book are fictional, there are just as many that are very real in the hallways of history, so be sure to read this book before searching up all the characters (a mistake I made myself) so that nothing is spoiled for you. This series is definitely worth the read. You might also read about this Emperor’s reign and discover how much we can learn from history, and more importantly, the very real humans of the past that shaped our present.

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