I fervently hope that Alison Morton is busy writing the next book in her Roma Nova series. I have just finished Insurrectio, but Insurrectio is not finished with me. While it is the most recent of the five books to date in Ms. Morton’s Roma Nova series, it is second in the chronological order of the series. When I opened it, it was the first Alternative History I have read in recent memory. I no sooner put it down before I moved on to the boxed set Inceptio, Perfiditas, and Successio, and ordered Aurelia. In five days, I had read them all.
The concept of Roma Nova differs from most alternative histories. Many begin at a definitive moment in the past, but proceed with a different outcome: What if the Russians had been colonizers instead of fur traders, or if Napoléon had won? What would Europe look like if Hitler’s nuclear programs had progressed a tad faster? Morton’s alternative histories begin in the1960’s (Aurelia), in a small country about the size of Luxembourg, crowded in between what we call Austria and modern Italy, but which happens to be the remnant of Roman civilization, hence, Roma Nova, the New Rome. In a sense, the book is a time slip in reverse. In the first five books of the series, the reader is not troubled by the roughly fifteen hundred year history of civilization since the Fall of Rome and the Rise of Donald Trump. Hopefully, Morton is saving that for later. What we experience in Insurrectio is a small nation with a vestige of Roman society and values occupying a small corner of a modern 1980’s world complete, with late Twentieth Century technology and institutions including, for example, the CIA.
This is not a book for those who are addicted to the history of the Dark Ages. The citizens of Roma Nova are moderns, but with a twist. Nevertheless, Morton, who is a student of Roman history, gives her novels and authentically Roman flavor that edifies and entertains. Her Roma Nova is an oligarchy ruled by The Twelve Families, each headed by women, under the titular governance of an Imperatrix. In Insurrectio, the female figurehead is gullible and weak. Our protagonist, Aurelia Mitela, is the leader of the most powerful of the families. The antagonist is a handsome and utterly amoral Cauis Tellus, scion of another of the ancient families, who has been serving prison terms for a variety of crimes against the state and Aurelia in particular.
The stage is set when the hesitant imperatrix, who is unable or unwilling to address the corruption and injustices in the society she rules, welcomes him back into the fold. .As Aurelia fears, Count Tellus has an entirely different view of how and by whom Roma Nova should be governed. While his early goals are achieved through charm and manipulation, Aurelia is not fooled. He is setting up a power play. Eliminating or incapacitating Aurelia is part of his agenda. He first strikes out at her fragile daughter, but he also moves against others who oppose him including his brother Quintus and his newly acquired stepson, child of the Imperatrix. But Aurelia is more than a skilled stateswoman. She is a former member of the Praetorian Guard and a combat veteran, and she has already experienced Tellus at most ruthless. Nevertheless, her enemy has spent well more than a decade in prison plotting the overthrow of his country’s government and the personal destruction of the woman he has loathed since childhood. His initial successes leave her spearheading a faltering resistance. When she cannot prevail against Tellus’s meticulously planned insurrection, she concentrates her efforts on survival. Morton has framed the final chapters of Insurrection in a manner assuring her readers that regardless of the fate of Aurelia Mitela and Cauis Tellus, the struggles of Roma Nova are not over yet.
From a purely analytical point of view, this is an intelligently conceived and meticulously researched and written action book that will not disappoint the most discriminating of readers. While others disagree with me, I am happy to have read the series in the order in which they have been written.,