Aurelia (Book IV in the Roma Nova series) by Alison Morton
Shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society Indie Award
Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2015
A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree
In her Roma Nova series, Alison Morton engages the query of What if, and world-building on the possible answers or results. Combining this with her own military experience and consideration of Roman women playing a more significant role than actual history shows, an installment such as Aurelia is born.
Growing Aurelia, of course, requires the possession of its own history, and Morton deftly provides this. Following Theodosius’s 395 (AD) ban on all pagan religious observation, some four hundred Romans depart, setting up an infant society, Roma Nova, on the family-owned land of its senator, who leads the new colony’s twelve prominent clans.
In her brief but fascinating historical note—wisely positioned at the start of the novel—Morton reminds us via Davies’s Vanished Kingdoms that any fledgling state requires certain elements to ensure its survival, amongst them defense, naturally, but also a diplomatic force, revenue system and, the author adds, adaptability.
The Roma Nova of Aurelia, set in the 1960s and populated by the descendants of the Twelve Families, has indeed looked after these interests: silver is their major export and they possess a hardy diplomatic corps, both of which come into play when Aurelia Mitela is sent abroad to investigate the price manipulation of this precious metal.
Aurelia, mother to a sickly child and who also recently lost her own mother under suspicious circumstances, travels to a Berlin different in two major ways, one for her and one for us.
Unlike the rest of Europe in this era, where women generally continue to embrace traditional roles, Roma Novan females are accustomed to being able to move into positions of power; indeed, Aurelia has a successful army career only recently put on hiatus. So she encounters a society unused to her authority and assertive demeanor, though without the fallout of an infamous Austrian-born corporal’s rise to terrible power, which in this alternate history never occurred.
Bringing a reader from the opening of this conception to the point at which Aurelia embarks on her investigation is no mean feat. Morton packs many centuries of history into the backstory and narrative without overwhelming us, but allowing Aurelia to develop a rapport with us as we read. She is a “mere soldier,” though proud of her service. She understands her tiny country has always had to work hard and remain vigilant to overcome their vulnerability. She is embarrassed at her weight gain and worries about her small daughter, and that she cannot fill her late mother’s shoes and keep up with her new duties.
Aurelia is sensitive but practical and as such, I didn’t entirely expect poetic-style passages in this first person narrative. Not that Aurelia isn’t intellectually capable; her character simply seems too no-nonsense. In that respect I was not disappointed for Aurelia’s voice makes sense; it fits perfectly with who she is … even when Morton tosses in a treat here and there.
He opened a glazed door at the far end of the glass wall. A narrow ledge protected by a waist-high glass wall with a curled edge metal top rail extended out about a metre from the wall. He was right; the view was spectacular. The sky glittered like a net of white diamonds on navy velvet. At times like this, you wondered if there really were gods on Olympus who could have created such beauty.
It wasn’t exactly a surprise to read such a lovely passage, as Aurelia indeed is brilliant, without a doubt. In fact, its sparing placement is in keeping with her personality and realistic presentation of her as a character. Morton’s dialogue is smooth and rhythmic, economic and directed.
The author also knows how to keep balance: Aurelia doesn’t run the risk of becoming too perfect because she does, in her worry and fatigue, occasionally overlook crucial bits that lead to new circumstances, for both better and worse. Further character development also occurs as events play out, and Aurelia grows in her awareness, a clever route for Morton to pursue as it lends greater tension to the story as we follow it.
I heard a gasp from Mercuria. Numerus came up beside me and stared at Tella with contempt. Before he could do anything, I stalked over to the older woman. My ribs were hurting, my arm aching and my tiredness was making me irritable. But more than anything, fury raced through me at her unreasonable attitude. She’d made a career out of being obnoxious but it was going to stop here. I halted within centimetres of her, almost touching her clothing.[…] As I turned my back on her, I was trembling, but I walked away in what I hoped was a dignified way.
As fourth in the Roma Nova series, Aurelia nevertheless may be read as a stand alone, and in fact it is prequel to the first three installments. It is easy to see why this is an award-winning novel, action-packed as it is, with Aurelia having to battle just to keep her investigation from being stymied and herself killed as she navigates her way through determination of allies and enemies. We see events through the eyes of Aurelia, gaining insight into the Twelve Families and their relationships with one another, as well as a love interest for Aurelia.
Morton’s familiarity with the inner workings of the military as well as solid research and a fabulously imagined Roman-descended culture—and the rich details provided—make this novel a page turner that not only will inspire readers to finish it in one go, but also take themselves back to Inceptio, number one in the series, and have at it from the beginning.
About the Author…
Even before she pulled on her first set of combats, Alison Morton was fascinated by the idea of women soldiers. Brought up by a feminist mother and an ex-military father, it never occurred to her that women couldn’t serve their country in the armed forces. Everybody in her family had done time in uniform and in theatre all over the globe.
So busy in her day job, Alison joined the Territorial Army in a special communications regiment and left as a captain, having done all sorts of interesting and exciting things no civilian would ever know or see. Or that she can talk about, even now ….
But something else fuels her writing … fascinated by the mosaics at Ampurias (Spain), at their creation by the complex, power and value-driven Roman civilisation she started wondering what a modern Roman society would be like if run by strong women.
Alison lives in France and writes Roman-themed thrillers with tough heroines.
Be sure to check out other great titles from Alison Morton~
Inceptio, the first in the Roma Nova series: shortlisted for the 2013 International Rubery Book Award; B.R.A.G. Medallion finalist in 2014; Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year
Perfiditas, second in series: B.R.A.G. Medallion; finalist in 2014 Writing Magazine Self-Published Book of the Year
Successio, third in series: Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2014; B.R.A.G. Medallion; Editor’s Choice, The Bookseller’s Inaugural Indie Preview, December 2014
And more on Aurelia, fourth in series, the first of a new cycle of three: Historical Novel Society’s Indie Editor’s Choice for Autumn 2015; shortlisted for the 2016 Historical Novel Society’s Indie Award; B.R.A.G. Medallion. To purchase Aurelia, click here for multiple retailers/formats.
A copy of Aurelia was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review.
Images courtesy Alison Morton.