I ended up wanting to like Empress of the Seven Hills more than I actually did. The continuing story of Vix, child of Thea and Arius from Mistress of Rome, felt like it could have been great, especially since I really enjoyed Mistress of Rome. However, while the story was enjoyable it was also frustrating in a number of ways as well.
The first half of the book was better than the second half. I do not know what happened to the pacing or the characters but everything seemed to derail a bit in the second half. Sabina and Titus were my favorite characters. Despite being the lead of the story, Vix was far too frustrating to care about.
This novel, as with Kate Quinn's other novels, has multiple character viewpoints. That writing style was largely successful in Empress but one character felt unnecessary: Plotina. Yes, she was a driving force for the plot and was vital to the ongoing behaviors of certain characters but having her have her own section did not add to the story in my opinion. Why not a viewpoint from Hadrian? That would have been considerably helpful especially since his character shifts so much in the second half of the book. A character change that is only shown through Sabina, who is largely confused by the changes to Hadrian.
The way in which Quinn chose to write the book was a tad confusing. Vix tells the story in first-person while the other characters are in third-person. This is fine but the real problem is how Vix tells his story. Some of Vix's parts are told as flashbacks of sorts with a lot of foreshadowing. The foreshadowing was extremely annoying and did not allow me as the reader to enjoy relationships as they were during the telling. It was pretty much "oh I loved this now but oooooh just wait, I'll hate it". Such things do not allow you to enjoy the moment. Vix would randomly state things in a flashback fashion while largely they were told in present tense. Why was that? Why the need for the flashback additions? They interfered with the flow of the book.
Also, was I supposed to like Vix? Because the way he told the story and his "voice" in general were very grating. He is essentially a womanizer and an annoying one to boot--he certainly was not his father. I still do not understand why he came to dislike Sabina so much. She never made any claims or pretended to be anything but who she was.
Also, the sudden addition of the character Mirah did not allow me as the reader to come to care for her character. I was supposed to considering the situation in the book but I just could not have cared less. Put her in a collapsed building, let her whine about the plight of the Jews etc. etc. but I could not come to care. (Also, the plight of which I speak did not add to the story in my opinion, just felt like a tangent. Will this be important in the next book?) Judging by the ending of the book I do not think the character that was supposed to care really cared at all either!
The plot itself was rather obvious, at least the main points. It felt somewhat formulaic at times, especially after having read the first two from Quinn. I have difficulty distinguishing whether this is Quinn's writing style or Roman politics that makes it so predictable, it is likely a mix.
In the end I did not really care what happened to the characters aside from Sabina and Titus. While large portions of the novel were enjoyable it was simply not as good as it could have been. All in all, Empress of the Seven Hills left me unsatisfied.