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AURELIA (Roma Nova) Paperback – May 5, 2015
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Aurelia shows us how different the 20th century might be if women had been full participants in running countries over the centuries. She is a Major in the praetorian Guard of Roma Nova--and heir to the head of the first of the Twelve Families. She has always avoided Caius Tellus, a member of one of the other Twelve Families because he is mean to all of the other children, including her, doing mean, nasty tricks. But he wants to marry her!! And her mother is encouraging him!
Aurelia's mother dies as a result of an extremely suspicious car wreck and Aurelia become head of the family before she is fully prepared.
Something needs to change and she is sent to Berlin as part of a silver trade party. What happens there and after, is a tight suspenseful novel, well worth reading!
Heading back to read the first one!
It took me like six pages to take Aurelia to my heart. It took me another ten pages to be utterly sucked into this fast-paced story, set in an unfamiliar Europe somewhere in the 1960s. What makes Ms Morton’s books so enjoyable is just how plausibly she presents a world slightly – but most fundamentally – different from our own. Tantalising bits and pieces of a Europe unmarked by “a short Austrian with a square moustache” come together to create a whole, a continent in which Roma Nova, proud survivor of the ancient Roman Empire, plays an active role.
In difference to her neighbours, Roma Nova is an equal-gender country – well, it has a matriarchal rather than patriarchal base, and women hold a number of high positions – but able men do as well. In the Europe of the 1960s, women were still mostly expected to embrace the traditional values of being a home-maker, and so Aurelia encounters a lot of preconceived notions when she is sent overseas to investigate who is manipulating the price of silver, Roma Nova’s foremost export.
Ms Morton is without any doubt one of the best dialogue writers I know – nothing ever sounds off-key. Combine this with strong descriptive writing, an obvious familiarity with a military organisation (most important when describing Roma Nova, as most citizens serve, at some point or other) and a broad understanding of ancient Roman rites and traditions, now part of Roma Nova’s central culture, and you have a novel that breathes with life. Plus, of course, you have Aurelia, a woman torn between her duty to her country and her strong maternal instincts. Roma Novans always do their duty – no matter the cost. Aurelia is no exception, and so this novel is both heart wrenching and, at times, excessively exciting.
Ms Morton has presented us with a little gem. My only gripe is that search as I may, I can’t quite find Roma Nova on any map. Oh, right; I forgot – it actually doesn’t exist, however inconceivable that seems after reading this book!
There are many novels that take as their starting point the assumption that a major historical event turned out differently: The South won the US Civil War, Hitler conquered Europe and kept it, the Spanish bested Drake or Napoleon won at Waterloo. Alison Morton’s four Nova Roma books take a different path. Instead of a different outcome, Ms. Morton imagines what happened if a culture survived.
The idea: A small corner of the Roman Empire survived, keeping some of the culture and religion of Rome – and Latin! – alive into the twentieth century, while the country itself – Nova Roma – had to change to accommodate technological changes. Like Switzerland, Nova Roma has never been conquered. Morton takes practices that were alive during Roman times, such as Senators having clients, and imagines how those practices morphed in almost 2,000 years.
There is a further twist, a twist that makes the books so imaginative. Unlike Switzerland, a patriarchal society, Nova Roma is a matriarchy, albeit a modern one.
So what is excellent about the books?
1. Use of history. Ms. Morton has thought out how today would be different if Nova Roma existed for the past 2000 years. BUT, this history is dropped into the plot in frozen blocks; instead, only when relevant is it mentioned.
2. Use of history. As far as I can determine or remember from my history and years of Latin, the little details of society then are accurate. This makes it so easy to accept Ms. Morton’s recreation of them in modern form – no “willing suspension of disbelief” is required.
3. Plot. Well thought through. Each book has a natural conclusion (no cliffhangers), while creating the beginnings of events that will form the plots for the next books.
4. Characters. I am a fan of strong women – women with “agency” – the ability to make things happen rather than respond to events. It is also the ability to learn from mistakes.
5. Complicated personal relationship(s). There is a romance here, in addition to mystery and suspense. The romance is far from linear.
What didn’t I like? I think that the female lead, Carina Mitela, should have made a different romantic choice. However, I’m male, and I tend to be harder on male characters than I gather female readers are.
My standard disclaimer: I purchase the books, I don’t know the author and I wasn’t asked to review them.