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Wednesday 14 September 2022

‘Julia Prima’ by Alison Morton

Published by Pulcheria Press,
23 August 2022.
ISBN: 979-1-09731035-6

The story opens with a prologue, set in AD 369, when Bacausus, a Celtic prince who was a commander in the Roman Empire, conquered Suria’s father’s tribe and Suria gave herself willingly to prevent her whole tribe going into captivity. The rest of the book is set in AD 370 in Roman Noricum, which is roughly equivalent to present day Austria, and is told in the viewpoint of Julia, the daughter of Bacausus and Suria.

The Roman Empire’s hold on its subservient nations is no longer as strong as in earlier times and there is a persistent fear of local rebellions. Prince Bacausus continues to perform a delicate balancing act, living as a Celtic prince who is also a Roman local ruler, a task that is increasingly difficult because he still clings to the old gods when his Roman overlords have decreed that Christianity is to be the religion of the Roman Empire. Bacausus walks a careful line between his deep devotion to his traditional practices and gods and paying sufficient lip service to the Christian rituals to avoid censure. Ironically, the Christians who were persecuted for their adherence to their religion in earlier times are now adopting a harsh policy to those who are unwilling to convert to Christianity. This is made even more difficult because Julia had been married to Deodatus, the nephew of Bishop Eligius, the local leader of the Christian church, a rigid authoritarian. Julia divorced Deodatus who could not fulfil her emotional or physical needs but, although she is divorced according to Roman law, Bishop Eligius refuses to accept that she is divorced according to the religion she had to accept when she married Deodatus.

Julia’s mother and brother are dead, and she is the mistress of her father’s house, which has left her free to indulge her appetites where she wishes. Lucius Apulius, is a newly arrived tribune, who has lost preferment because of his refusal to convert to Christianity. When Lucius encounters Julia and mistakes her for a prostitute she is excited rather than distressed and relishes the moment when Lucius will realise his error. However, the attraction between Julia and Lucius is more than just sexual and their relationship swiftly deepens. Bishop Eligius is determined to force Julia to return to Deodatus and Lucius is ordered to return to Rome and forbidden to leave it under pain of death. Julia realises that her brief liaison with Lucius has made her pregnant. Her father decrees that she shall marry a landowner who lives far enough away to be free of the Bishop’s influence, but he chooses another man incapable of meeting her needs and she feels betrayed.

Determined to control her own destiny, Julia escapes from the custody of her prospective husband and his retinue and sets out on the dangerous and gruelling journey to Rome. This is made even more perilous because she knows her betrothed husband will be determined to track her down and recapture her. She is accompanied by the only two people that she can trust. Asella is her body servant, she is a wise woman and healer, who people have described as a witch; because she accompanied Julia’s mother when Suria married Bacausus, Asella knows many secrets of the past. Julia’s other companion is Aegius, who has been employed by Bacausus as a Fresco painter for as long as Julia can remember. Julia had already suspected that Aegius was far more than simply a skilled artist, and the masterful way in which he guides his companions on their perilous journey through mountains, forests and sea travels confirms this. There is danger from bandits and pirates and Julia is grateful to her late mother who had insisted she was taught swordsmanship, but soon it becomes clear that Julia is being targeted by an unknown enemy, someone who wishes not to recapture her and bring her into submission but to cause her death.

Julia Prima is the first in a new series that explores the roots of Roma Nova, the alternative history created by this author. It is primarily a romantic adventure novel with an element of mystery, as Julia tries to defeat the unknown enemy who wishes to destroy her, although, because of the information contained in the prologue, the reader is better informed than the protagonists. The setting is skilfully portrayed, and the historical details are authentic and convincing and cast a different light on the religious differences of this time. Julia is an increasingly engaging protagonist as she faces loss and danger with courage and becomes less arrogant as she travels disguised as the daughter of her two companions. This is a book that should be enjoyed by anybody who is fascinated by the history of the Roman Empire at this turbulent time as well as those who have enjoyed the stories of Roma Nova, which the author has already published. It is also a good read for those who like courageous and competent female protagonists who will not allow others to dictate the major decisions of their lives. An interesting read, which I recommend.

Reviewer: Carol Westron

Alison Morton 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 – regular and reserve Army, RAF, WRNS, WRAF – 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…

Now, she writes Roman-themed alternate history thrillers with tough heroines:

Carol Westron
is a successful author and a Creative Writing teacher.  Her crime novels are set both in contemporary and Victorian times.  Her first book The Terminal Velocity of Cats was published in 2013. Since then, she has since written 6 further mysteries. Carol recently gave an interview to Mystery People. To read the interview click on the link below.

To read a review of Carol latest book click on the title
The Curse of the Concrete Griffin

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