The book: Romanitas, by Sophie McDougall
The edition: Gollancz paperback, 571 pages, with a note on Latin dates and names and a timeline of the empire (the edition also includes the first chapters of Rome Burning)
The story: the novel is set in a world where the Roman Empire never ended and still rules half of the world in 2757 A.U.C. (i.e. 2004 A.D.) with the same costumes and traditions it had in Caesar’s time (i.e. slavery, crucifixions, Latin as a major tongue etc.). This is the story of Marcus, the teenage nephew of the Emperor, whose parents die in a car accident and who soon discovers his life may be at risk too. And it’s the story of Una and Sulien, two teenage slaves on the run. And it’s also the story of a great scheme to change the ways of the Empire, and of an even greater scheme to avoid that.
My experience with the book & my thoughts: when I first found out about this book, I learned the term uchronia, meaning alternate history. The premise is interesting, and I think that it was well-developed (at least in the novel itself). Except that McDougall gave supernatural powers to some of the characters, never quite explaining where these powers come from, so it’s not purely alternate history, and this nagged at me; oh well, can’t be perfect.
For the rest, the story worked well for me. In creating a different world there is so much to explain, and it’s all used nicely to build tension and mystery and to keep some things hidden until the very end. Characters are people you can grow attached to, and the rhythm of the whole novel has the right balance for an adventure, never quite degenerating into an Indiana Jones-style romp.
The only other issue I have is: teenager characters. When they behave like teenagers I cannot relate; here they behaved like adults, and I kept wondering, why say he’s 16 if he’s to behave like he’s 26? Really, they didn’t seem teenagers at all!
The part with spoilers: … and it’s not because of the romance. That could work just as well with older characters. Especially given the situation and the differences between them.
What I liked: the adventure, and recognizing parts of Latin culture as they could have developed.
What I didn’t like: the alternate history is well developed in the novel itself, but in reading the timeline I kept scowling: things happened too much in the same way, in the same order, in the same timeframe as they did in our history (the discovery of the Americas, of Australia, the invention of the telegraph, the use of electricity…). It didn’t seem logical, in a world that has not seen the Dark Ages.
Language & writing: I liked the way McDougall created new words based on Latin roots for modern ideas and objects, such as longvision instead of television and longdictor instead of telephone and volucer instead of helicopter. I didn’t like the way she treated place names (she does explain her criteria in a note, but I don’t get them, or maybe I just disagree.)
Random thought: my husband knows his Roman history waaaay better than I do. Must be something to do with being Roman.
Read this if: owww, I don’t know. If you find the premise intriguing, I guess.
Counts as: Italy in Books Challenge; Travel with Books – Rome