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VINE VOICEon 15 April 2010
I bought this book as I was looking to read something funny and light hearted. I was fully aware that this was written in verse in two line couplets and even read the first couple of pages on the Amazon page and liked it. But r reading a couple of pages and a whole book is a big difference and I found it hard work to read as it was written.

That being said it was enjoyable and I like the idea of the book. The main character Zuleka is charming and endearing, and it begins at that age where she realises she knows nothing when she thought she knew everything. The colourful cast of characters also make it a good read.

Had this been fully prose I think I would have enjoyed it more. But that is just my preference and others will probably see differently. Either way it is worth a read.
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The Emperor's Babe is a novel written in blank verse, set in Roman London. The narrator is a Zuleika, a girl born to Sudanese immigrant parents who, aged 11, is quite literally sold by her father to a wealthy man who wants her for his bride. Skip forward a few years and Zuleika is pampered materially but emotionally neglected, bored and unfulfilled - until she catches the eye of the Roman Emperor, Septimius Severus,

By far the most notable thing about The Emperor's Babe is its language, which is a strange mix of modern slang, street-talk and Latin phrases that combine into a sort of patois. It's sometimes effective, but just as often grating; it all just feels very overdone and occasionally patronising. Similarly, genuinely atmospheric evocations of life in Roman Britain - which are fascinating, vivid and a great reminder that London was just as multicultural a city circa 200AD as it is now - are peppered with deliberate anachronisms. I assume are intended to make us feel closer to Zuleika and her world and identify more directly with them, but I found the somewhat laboured humour in references to Armani tunics and the EC4 postcode very quickly wore thin.

This is a shame, because some of the story really is beautifully written, and amid the brashness of Zuleika's narration, there are several moments that are touching, heartbreaking or arresting in one way or another. Zuleika's deliberately offhand references to the horrors of her wedding night - she is married, remember, at the age of 11, to an obese, middle-aged man - are painful in their deliberate casualness, and there is a viscerally shocking scene when she experiences a moment of catharsis while watching the grotesque cruelties of the amphitheatre.

While Bernadine Evaristo has done an innovative and interesting thing with this book - and I am sure many people would love it; there is much to admire in it - this one's just not for me, I'm afraid.
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on 24 April 2016
Zuleika, the daughter of Sudanese/Nubian immigrants to Londinium, becomes a child bride and then the mistress of the emperor Septimius Severus.

A brash bawdy romp, this is basically a "Carry On Cleo" type of mixture of Roman stereotypes with knowing winks to the audience through references to modern place names in and around London and modern fashions. The cover gives the game away with Zuleika sporting a heart shaped tattoo enclosing the words "SEV IV ME". I loved it, but those who take their historical fiction seriously will hate it.
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on 11 July 2001
It's been a while since I've been knocked off my feet by a book in way The Emperor's Babe did. Maybe not since I read Rimbaud at highschool... Adverbs keep flying through my head when I want to describe the book: funny, intelligent, sophisticated, heart-warming, etc. etc. What struck me first (of course) was the verse. Steady two line most of the time, but changing pace in more intimate sections and by that changing atmosphere at once. The book is somewhat of a classic lyrical epic and bc of that rhytm it grips you from the first pair of lines, and (I have to say this) it swings!!
Second: the main character, Zuleika, is a welcome apparition in present-day literature. Zuleika is tough, smart and gets what she wants. No whining like Bridget J. or all the other 30-ish single women-books and definitely nothing of the "I've lived through it all" Oprah-books. Zuleika's got a certain sense of girl-power (sorry for that word) and that makes you love her from the start.
And then the story: London 211. It's dirty, rotten and sexy. But that's all I say, just go and read. And after that go and look for her first book "Lara". You won't be sorry...
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on 26 March 2012
This is a tremendous piece of writing which should be on the reading list for all A-Level English and Classics students (risque passages aside). Don't let the "poetry" badge put you off - I can see why Evaristo opted for the format; the free flow of prose and the formatting of the page give the work another dimension, and the creativity of phrase and verse is wonderfully deployed. This is exciting, vibrant writing that had me racing to finish.
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on 29 August 2001
I heard about this books because I scour the papers for recommended books and this one came up trumps time and time again. I have to say that few books move me in the way this one did. It made me step outside of my own mind, my own way of thinking, and go into the head of this amazing girl called Zuleika who lived in 211 but seemed as if she lived next door today. I defy anyone not to fall in love with Zuleika - she's so full of life and wit. Few writers have created a character so multi-faceted and so vivid and so loveable. It is a very imaginative book, in fact one of the most, if not THE most imaginative book I have ever read and I read all the time. It's set in Roman London but it constantly refers to contemporary London, making it swing between both centuries. It's a bloody good story too, a real page turner and the characters leap off the page with such energy and origanlity. I keep recommending this book to my friends because it is such fun to read while also having intellectual weight too. It's a magical mix of many things and I will keep returning to read it. A real groundbreaker!
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on 17 March 2015
A great book. The writing style is very unique, written almost like a poem throughout. Set in the Roman era, it has a strong central female protagonist, who you find yourself cheering on - plenty of love and lust. It's easy to get stuck into and makes for a great gentle read.
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VINE VOICEon 15 August 2011
The one duty we owe to history is to rewrite it, said Oscar Wilde, as the first page of this sexy, naughty, quite wonderful book reminds us. In The Emperor's Babe history is a carnival, a storm of colour and loud music, peopled by horny dudes and even hornier babes. The bodacious chick of the title is Zuleika, daughter of African immigrants in Roman London, AD211. Married off to an oft-absent Roman nobleman at the age of 11, it's not until she encounters Septimius Severus (Emperor of Rome, no less) years later that she finds out what love is really all about. Latin jokes and hip anachronisms keep things entertaining, even when love takes the course Ovid always seemed to say it would. Up Pompeii it ain't.
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on 9 September 2015
A well written novel with an interesting melding of modern Day language and slang with classical language. Very humorous at times which makes the sometimes tedious classical language much easier to digest.
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on 25 June 2014
It's been a while since I felt like this about a book. I love the story, the language and the tone. It made Londinium come alive and taught me some Latin - DUM SPIRO, SPERO!
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