Rome's Last Noble Palace
By: Kimberly Sullivan
Publication Date: December 6, 2023
Reviewed by: Katie Specht
Women’s fiction author Kimberly Sullivan is back with her newest release, Rome’s Last Noble Palace, an historical fiction account of two women centuries apart. This is a dual-timeline novel following two female main characters, Isabelle and Sophie, as they both inhabit the same attic room in the Palazzo Brancaccio Museum in Rome, Isabelle from 1896-1897 and Sophie in 2006 and 2018.
Sophie’s story alternates between the years 2006 and 2018. In 2006, she is a doctoral student interning at Rome’s Near Eastern Art Museum while living in an attic room in the Palazzo Brancaccio Museum. She meets a native Italian, Martina, and they quickly strike up a friendship as Martina offers to help Sophie learn Italian. In Sophie’s story in 2018, she has returned to Rome with her son, Matt, for a lecture and meeting at the museum and to visit with her old friend Martina. Isabelle’s story takes place from 1896-1897 as she is sent to Rome to live with her aunt, who is a princess. However, Isabelle, who is an American, dreams of bigger things for her life than simply marrying an Italian nobleman.
As a doctoral student, Sophie is stressed as she oversees a major exhibition at the Near Eastern Art Museum, but when she begins experiencing ominous ghostly sounds outside her attic room at the same time each night, she wonders if there is a spirit living in the museum that has a message for her. When Sophie meets Luisa, who is interested in the occult, including seances and communicating with spirits, she is thrilled at the idea of being able to freely talk to someone about the disturbing nighttime presence she keeps hearing. Isabelle, in her time, is longing for more than to simply be married off to a nobleman, and works in secret with her friend Stefania designing costumes for the theater.
The one unique characteristic that both Sophie and Isabelle have in common, even centuries apart, is that they are leading tortured lives. As they both navigate their lives the best they can to try to escape the issues that plague them, they will both face unexpected circumstances and unsavory people will attempt to prevent them from achieving their goals.
The way in which Sullivan wrote this book, utilizing the dual-timeline, was quite distinctive. It’s a style that one might think would be confusing for the reader, but in fact, the author did an impressive job of keeping each character’s story separate and easy to follow. Since there are essentially two main characters, this means that there is a large supporting cast of characters as well. With such a large cast, it is often easy to let them fall between the cracks underdeveloped, but once again, Sullivan achieved success here by not only thoroughly developing all necessary characters, but also making them extremely relatable to the reader. While reading, there were certain characters I wanted to give a big hug to, and simultaneously, other characters that I hoped would experience the brutal sting of karma.
A rather special aspect of this book was that it incorporated two very different genres, historical fiction and the supernatural. I thoroughly enjoyed learning historical aspects during Isabelle’s story, while relishing the shivers that went down my spine as the ghost story was explored during Sophie’s timeline. While including such diverse topics could have led to a book feeling choppy, Sullivan integrated these two very different genres seamlessly and flawlessly.
Quill says: Sullivan has achieved a winner with the historical fiction account combined with a haunting tale in Rome’s Last Noble Palace. Readers will be drawn into the book by the amazing setting of Rome, while the eerie and thrilling ghost story will ensure that they remain transfixed until the last page.
For more information on Rome's Last Noble Palace, please visit the author's website at: www.kimberlysullivanauthor.com