Alison Morton tells us in her acknowledgements at the end of Inceptio that she'd been wondering what the Roman Empire would have been like if it were a matriarchy since she was eleven years old. That was the origin of the Roma Nova alternate historical thriller series. Inceptio is the first volume in that series.
Instead of going back to the beginnings of Rome for the divergence point of her alternate universe, Morton starts with the establishment of Roma Nova. Morton's Roma Nova is a Roman colony beyond the borders of the Empire which was established during the reign of Theodosius in the 4th century C.E. which is very late in Roman history. Roma Nova may be located in part of the territory that we call Switzerland in our universe. There is also a mention of a nation called Helvetica which may be where the peoples of our Switzerland reside. I'm not entirely certain. If the author had provided a map, that would have settled the matter.
The founders of Roma Nova left Rome when Theodosius outlawed all Pagan practices. This and other background appears in the Introduction which avoids info dumps within the novel's text. I applaud Morton's solution to this world building problem.
I received Inceptio for free from the author through Instafreebie which doesn't require downloaders to review free books. The premise sounded fascinating, but it took me a while to get to Inceptio due to review commitments.
Inceptio takes place in the altered 21st century. Roma Nova is a place where Latin is the primary spoken language. It's ruled by an Imperatrix and families are matrilineal. Men marry into the families of their wives. We follow the story of a young woman whose mother was a Roma Novan. She was born in the alternate version of the US. As the novel opens she is introduced to us as Karen Brown, but events rapidly change her sense of identity. I admired Karen for her adaptability, resourcefulness and courage.
The plot is appropriately fast paced for a thriller with a great deal of action. Morton doesn't linger to provide very many cultural references or explanations. There are Latin terms, but I found it easy to understand them from context. Aside from the setting, the events could be taking place in our 21st century. There may be variant power hierarchies, but I got the impression that this isn't really a world that's very different from our own. Modern technology is ubiquitous and societal problems are similar. I didn't feel that Roma Nova was either a utopia or a dystopia.
My one disappointment with Inceptio is that I expected to see characters more involved in Roman Pagan customs and institutions. The founders of Roma Nova apparently left Rome when they did because they valued the traditions and practices of Roman Paganism. I hoped that there would be more extensive content related to Pagan rituals, and that there might be at least one character who was a priestess. I wondered if Morton's Praetorians might be Mithrans like many of the ancient Roman soldiers in our world, but there were no mentions of Mithras or any practices associated with Mithraism in Inceptio. There were also no references to other popular mystery cults of the ancient Roman world. Perhaps Morton believes that Pagan religion would have largely faded away as a response to science and technology, but in our 21st century there is a significant population that are believers in some form of religion. I wanted to meet Roma Novans who were equally committed to some of the spiritual paths of ancient Rome.
Nevertheless, I enjoyed Inceptio and the evolution of its female protagonist into a strong and capable woman. I expect to continue on her journey in the remainder of the series.