Imperatrix by S.P. Somtow | Fascinating Historical Fiction set in Ancient Rome

by S.P. Somtow
Captured by pirates and sold to a Roman aristocrat as a sex slave, Sporus attracted the attention of no less a personage than the Emperor Nero, ruler of the known world. Would-be poet, patron of the arts, aesthete, and brutal autocrat, the Divine Nero saw in the boy a startling resemblance to the Empress Poppaea – and made him an empress as well.
Suetonius, Tacitus, and other Roman historians have given tantalizing glimpses into the incredible life story of the boy who became twice an empress to two emperors, and was condemned to die in the arena by a third.
In this meticulously researched trilogy, World Fantasy Award-winning author S.P. Somtow lays bare the darkest secrets of Imperial Rome – its triumphs and its nadirs, its beauty and its cruelty. Through this chaos, a contorted mirror of our contemporary world, this figure of Sporus moves, all too knowing yet all too innocent, providing a worm’s eye view of one of the wildest periods in ancient history.
Imperatrix, the second volume of the tale, takes us into the heart of the Imperial palace with all its intrigue, depravity, and splendor.
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Enjoy a Snippet:
“Have another brain,” said the Emperor, feeding me Himself.
“Divinitas,” I said, “how many peacocks does it take to make such a platter?”
“Wonderful!” said Himself. “Poppaea never takes an interest in how the world runs. For her, the brains just appear by magic. The answer to question is — why — we have our own, private little — to coin a word — pavonarium. Would you like to see peacocks — a veritable ocean of peacocks — more bird-brains than even in the Senate?” He clapped hands, dropping a brain onto the grass, though Hercules quickly disposed of it. “Come!”
He took me by the hand and started to pull me in toward the far side of the garden, where there was a fountain cunningly designed like a pair of dolphins. I turned to look at the Lady Poppaea, terrified that I would soon be alone with the God.
“This could be your fortune,” she said to me. “You’ve insulted, you’ve appeased. Now, Sporus, you must seduce.”

Once referred to by the International Herald Tribune as ‘the most well-known expatriate Thai in the world,’ Somtow Sucharitkul is no longer an expatriate, since he has returned to Thailand after five decades of wandering the world. He is best known as an award-winning novelist and a composer of operas.
Born in Bangkok, Somtow grew up in Europe and was educated at Eton and Cambridge. His first career was in music and in the 1970s, his first return to Asia, he acquired a reputation as a revolutionary composer, the first to combine Thai and Western instruments in radical new sonorities. Conditions in the arts in the region at the time proved so traumatic for the young composer that he suffered a major burnout, emigrated to the United States, and reinvented himself as a novelist.
His earliest novels were in the science fiction field and he soon won the John W. Campbell for Best New Writer as well as being nominated for and winning numerous other awards in the field. But science fiction was not able to contain him and he began to cross into other genres. In his 1984 novel Vampire Junction, he injected a new literary inventiveness into the horror genre, in the words of Robert Bloch, author of Psycho, ‘skillfully combining the styles of Stephen King, William Burroughs, and the author of the Revelation to John.’ Vampire Junction was voted one of the forty all-time greatest horror books by the Horror Writers’ Association.
In the 1990s Somtow became increasingly identified as a uniquely Asian writer with novels such as the semi-autobiographical Jasmine Nights and a series of stories noted for a peculiarly Asian brand of magic realism, such as Dragon’s Fin Soup, which is currently being made into a film directed by Takashi Miike. He recently won the World Fantasy Award, the highest accolade given in the world of fantastic literature, for his novella The Bird Catcher.
Returning to Thailand in 2001, he became artistic director of Opera Siam and has had more than a dozen operas produced around the world including The Snow Dragon and The Silent Prince, premiered in the United States, Helena Citronova, an opera set during the Holocaust, and the ten-part DasJati: Ten Lives of the Buddha.
In the last few years he has made a return to writing novels with the Nero and Sporus trilogy and the young adult series, Club X.
In 2021 the film he produced and wrote, The Maestro: Symphony of Terror received over forty awards at international festivals and in 2023 the Thai government officially elevated him to the status of National Artist.
Read S.P. Somtow’s interview on Literary Titan about Imperatrix on
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