Insurrectio (Book V in the Roma Nova series) by Alison Morton
Historical Novel Society Indie Editor’s Choice Spring 2016
Chill with a Book Award Book of the Month February 2017
A B.R.A.G. Medallion Honoree, October 2016
For your chance to win a FREE e-copy of Insurrectio, simply comment below to get your name in the draw!
Update: Drawing will be held December 16 (see link here)
Imagine a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived, transformed into a society in which women have more public power, and continues to govern today in a modest portion of Europe. Author Alison Morton has done this and her alternate history series, featuring Aurelia Mitela, descended from the lead of the originally exiled Twelve Families, ex-Praetorian and current imperial counsellor in Roma Nova, is the fabulous result of her wanderings through the past.
Roma Nova is divided into two parts of three books each: the second cycle, Aurelia, Insurrectio and Retalio, functions as the prequel story and occurs in the 1960s and 80s, ahead of Inceptio, Perfitidas and Successio, set in an alternate-reality present day. There is no disadvantage to opening with the Aurelia cycle, indeed at any within it, for Morton has written them as stand-alone novels, each a complete and satisfying story of a chain of events in the life of our protagonist, whose childhood nemesis, Caius Tellus, brings his antagonism to bear on the government he loathes. A misogynist with an axe to grind, he derives special pleasure from targeting Aurelia, whose strength and determination threatens not only his fragile ego, but also the plans he has in store for their small but silver-rich nation.
Most of us have heard it said repeatedly: power never exists in a vacuum. Aurelia understands this all too well, but has difficulty getting others to realize the danger of the void that exists, and which Tellus has already recognized. As circumstances go from bad to worse, Aurelia seeks to protect her teenage and lately contrary daughter, while simultaneously working to reconcile her relationship with Miklós, whose inability to remain in one spot unsettles her. At just about the time Aurelia begins to wish her strong ethics had not stayed her hand in a confrontation with Tellus some years earlier, others in her social and administrative circles see her as conspirator, and Aurelia is faced with a dilemma that umbrellas all her other troubles: is it too late to do anything?
Thinking I might like it enough, not being a big reader of Roman historical fiction, I had been pleasantly surprised with my reading of Aurelia a year or so ago. That sense of wonder increased exponentially with my inhalation of Insurrectio, the bulk of which was absorbed in one 24-hour period. The pages turned in swift succession with the thrill of events often occurring just as quickly, and I found myself responding to them, sometimes aloud, groaning in exasperation, lecturing people, smacking my forehead in disbelief, urging them to light a fire under it ….
Part of what makes Morton’s political thriller so exciting is the pace at which her story moves, influencing a habit I have recognized in myself and seen in others, of reading more rapidly, as if somehow that might prompt the positive outcome of characters in danger. Paired with a narrative of intrigue and deception, betrayal woven into even small corners of instances, we become more suspicious of everything and then cry out when someone falls into a trap.
One such potential snare is a Roma Novan law that functions for the society’s women to retain power, but its discriminatory nature provides a weak spot for exploitation. As plot device, however, it is strong, setting the stage for Caius to make his attempts at “reform,” and threatening to lead his nation to a Roman dystopia. Then there is the Roman feel of the setting, what with traditional names (including plural ending of surnames), titles (domina, Praetorian), reference to ancient worship (“What in Hades is that supposed to mean?” or “Jupiter! What’s this?”) and the perception that the Prussians are a soft society, amongst a people who use cell phones, drive cars and do business worldwide. This, to be honest, is a lot to mix together, but Morton does it with style and flair as she also subtly mirrors real-life current events and passionate but flawed expectations:
Terrifying as the attack … had been, it was minor compared with the trouble in the city. By the time he’d flown out to see me, Plico had compiled the full picture. A parade of thousands of men from the Roman National Movement marching in full toga order from the forum had ended a rally in front of the amphitheatre with twice the number they’d started with. There’d been declamatory speeches which some of Plico’s operatives had listened to while mingling with the toga toughs.
‘The speakers call themselves Gracchus, Sulla, Clodius and so on.’ He snorted. ‘Pseudonyms, obviously, but they’ve got the crowd fired up. My people said they pushed emotional words at the crowd, repeating over and over again stuff about land, virtue, tradition, strength, order, manliness, grabbing every popular reference they could from history. They called for stability, jobs, respect—all the usual stuff—without any explanation about how they were going to deliver them, of course.’
It would be a mistake to perceive this as mere gender reversal, not only because, as weak Roma Novan governance itself demonstrates, any group is subject to instability, but also as it removes personhood from the entire populace, not only its men. As a study in leadership, it works, because this angle, too, reveals the strengths and weaknesses of all people (not only women), and highlights a need for balance to overcome inequality, not legislatively favoring one or certain elements within any population.
As we are given greater view to genuine gripes exploited by an agenda, the rapid pace of the narrative reflects the manner in which individuals must act. Though Aurelia draws on her past experience to move forward, as a character she grows. Her humanity is more revealed, though so too is her vulnerability. Her very real anxieties threaten to trip her up as they carry readers along with events, breathlessly urging her to be as wary of her fears as the occasions that birth them. For readers familiar with the titular character of Aurelia, this is especially satisfying given her very practical and efficient portrayal in the cycle’s first installment.
Overall, it’s easy to say this was a fantastically paced tale with a plot that captures reader attention and doesn’t let go. Aurelia is a likeable character up against an enemy carefully developed into a realistic and formidable foe. With subtle teasers here and there as to the future of Roma Nova, it beckons us deeper into Alison Morton’s world. Read alone or along with the others, those within this world grow closer to us and we care about what happens to them, as does Aurelia, even though she doesn’t like some of them very much. It causes one to wonder what happens next, which can be seen in the first three books of the series, though we suspect they will remain with us long after even their conclusion.
To enter the contest for a FREE e-copy of Insurrectio, simply comment below – no need for anything fancy! – and you’re in! Alternately, you may also comment at this review Facebook thread, located here.
Drawing to be held December 2
To read my review for Aurelia, click here.
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
A copy of Insurrectio was furnished to the blogger in exchange for an honest review
Image courtesy Alison Morton