Dawn Empress by Faith L. Justice

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The excitement I have experienced at the next book in The Theodosian Women series coming out is unfathomable! I’ve been highly anticipating this book since reading the first, Twilight Empress which if you haven’t read it yet, you should, although they work as stand-alone books and don’t have to be read in order. The Theodosian Women series centers around three Augusta’s, Placidia, Pulcheria, and Athenais, with each book being dedicated to their life and trials. Since they all lived at the same time with their stories overlapping, you will read about certain situations more than once – but don’t be put off. Justice is an expert at focusing on the women caught up in the situation, thus, the situation is never repetitive but rather a new adventure with a new champion. It must be noted that this happened rarely between Placidia of book one and Pulcheria of book two as both women ruled over an administratively split Roman Empire, where they had their own domains…but family and politics are family and politics.

Aelia Pulcheria is the featured Dawn Empress, sister to the Eastern Roman Emperor Theodosius II. She is the Theodosian woman I was least looking forward to but I was very pleasantly surprised and she truly holds her own and so does the book; thus receiving a five-star rating. Being the eldest sibling with her brother in his minority, Pulcheria, grows up too fast in order to protect her orphaned family. She is named Regent for her brother at the tender age of 15, and rigid in her ways to make sure her brother’s reign is not sullied with the drunken, adulteress reign of her father. Pulcheria is raised to be an Augusta and lives out a virginal, pietist life devoted to family and people at a time of waning power in the West and a raising in the East, not to mention, having an influential hand in early Christian doctrine that still has a legacy today. There is no denying that Pulcheria was religious, steadfast and a strong ruler – but what was she as a person? Justice, within the book, manages to create a likely humanistic Pulcheria, a person with the world on her shoulders trying to do what she thinks is best and keep her brother alive.

Did I love this fictional Pulcheria? She was very difficult to like at times but that is to be expected. Her accomplishments required a singled minded person who could transcend emotion. But it is her fear that drives her to this, the fear of her mother and father’s sins which lead her into a consuming study about the downfall of past rulers so that she and her siblings can avoid their fate. This leads the family, led by Pulcheria, down a very religious path that is highly destructive on occasions not just to the siblings but also to the empire. Pulcheria suffers from pride and vanity when it comes to her position and religious efforts, but she is also an incredible woman with such a big heart that much good was done during her brother’s reign, especially for the lowly people. Pulcheria is an incredibly complex character and I’ve yet to decide what I truly feel about her but I do know that if I had to describe Pulcheria in one word it would be: understanding. She was excellent at understanding people and situations and this is a guiding light in hard times but I also found this frustrating, thus showing I wouldn’t make a good ruler.

I particularly loved the interactions of Pulcheria with Placidia and her children. From the first book, Pulcheria, at these times, was a religious zealot and somewhat condescending however getting behind the scenes from Pulcheria’s side makes the interactions far more juicier; as well as Pulcheria’s interactions and jealousies with Athenais. Unfortunately, I side with Athenais in these. I also loved how the book ended, it was beautifully poetic but simple and the reader is left with the gravity of how important Pulcheria was to the people. The ordinary people who’s lives are usually played with by the ruling elite and who are normally the first to feel consequences. I’m highly, highly looking forward to the next book in the series and hope it’s not too far off. Having teasers of the beautiful, romantically tragic Athenais (who couldn’t even keep her name) in the first two books has left me with book fever.

Thank you to NetGalley and the publisher, Raggedy Moon Books, for an E-ARC of this book in exchange for an honest review. All opinions are my own.

Want to read an interview with Faith taking about the first book in her series? Faith was my November 2019 Author of the month.

Author: Zoe Pollock

I love reading books and all things book related!

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