|Cover artist||Cynthia von Buhler|
The story focuses on Nicole Gunther, an American woman in the 1990s, who is dissatisfied with her hectic life, which includes balancing her career as a lawyer with being a mother and dealing with her deadbeat ex-husband and sexist coworkers. Believing the past was a better time, one evening, after a particularly wild day, she makes a wish before a plaque of two Roman gods, Liber and Libera. The next morning, she finds herself waking up in the body of one of her ancient ancestors in 2nd-century Carnuntum in what is now Austria. In general, she finds out the hard way that life in the past was not quite what she thought it would be: slavery taken for granted, no women's rights, no effective medicine or clean medical practices, and no tampons. Over the course of a year, she is forced to revise many of her long-held modern prejudices, including those against alcohol and corporal punishment. She survives epidemic disease and a German invasion; finds that early Christianity was uncomfortably zealous and apocalyptic; and, after a brutal rape by a Roman soldier, discusses the role of government and its duties to abused citizens with Roman Emperor Marcus Aurelius. Eventually, Liber and Libera fulfill her desire to return home, where she wakes from a week-long 'coma' to find that, with her hard won skills and improved perspective, both her working and family life will improve and she can more easily deal with the stress and difficulties of her modern life. She retains memories which could never be shared with anybody and a thorough knowledge of the Latin language.
The book's plot has much in common with Gunpowder Empire, though that book concerns travel to an alternate Roman Empire which has survived into the late 21st Century. Both books depict the daily life of a provincial Roman city from the point of view of modern American(s) marooned there, and both deal prominently such issues as facing a society where slavery is taken for granted, and surviving a foreign invasion of the Imperial territory.
The dedication page of Household Gods claims that the plot is based on an unused idea from the mind of Fletcher Pratt.