Tuesday, April 17, 2018

Retalio: The Fight to Restore The Matriarchy After Insurrectio

When author Alison Morton sent me Retalio, the last book of the Aurelia trilogy, I thought I would have no problem reading and reviewing it in a timely manner.   This past week has been infernally busy, so it took me far longer to read Retalio than I expected.  Yet it was so suspenseful that I hated having to set my Kindle down.

I have read and reviewed the following books in the alternate history matriarchal Roma Nova series on this blog:  InceptioCarina , Perfiditas, Aurelia and Insurrectio. Since this is the sequel to Insurrectio, I would recommend reading that review for background information.


When I read about the condition of Roma Nova under the rule of fascist dictator Caius Tellus in an alternate version of the 1980's, I was reminded of  accounts dealing with Khmer Rouge Cambodia.  They too had a nationalist ideology involving restoring Cambodia to the way it was in ancient times.  Anyone who had skills or an education was regarded as a threat to this goal and was eliminated.   Caius wasn't as extreme, but he did attempt to do away with any women who had any skills or education.  This was massively genocidal and predictably resulted in societal collapse as it did in Cambodia.  I wonder if Khmer Rouge Cambodia existed in Roma Nova's alternate timeline.  If so, the fall of Pol Pot in 1979 would have been a recent event that should have caused potential followers of Caius to hesitate before committing to his cause.  Unfortunately, relatively few people learn any lessons from the experience of a distant country which usually isn't regarded as relevant.

So the invasion by those Roma Novan leaders and military personnel who had managed to escape into exile did encounter resistance.  Even though I knew the result from having read the 21st century Carina books, I identified with Aurelia who went through an intensely dramatic turnaround at a moment when she was fairly certain of victory.

 Due to the focus on women in aviation on this blog, I was pleased that a rather bold female pilot played a surprise role.

In addition to the tension of plot twists, there was a powerful pagan religious ritual which was integral within the context of the narrative.  Since the founders of Roma Nova had left Christianized Rome because they were devout worshipers of  ancient divinities, I was hoping to see some moments of spiritual depth in their descendants.   I finally saw it in Retalio when the exiles came together for a fervent funeral rite. Silvia, the future ruler of Roma Nova in the Carina trilogy, was still a teenager.  Yet I felt that she came into her own during that ceremony. Ave Imperatrix!

I am hoping that Alison Morton will take a more historical direction when she returns to Roma Nova.  I would love to see novels dealing with the founding of Roma Nova, and the origins of the matriarchy.



Monday, April 16, 2018

The Suffragette Scandal--Some of The Best Romance Dialogue Ever!

I haven't reviewed a suffragette novel in 2018.  It's about time that I did.  Suffragettes are my favorite historical subject. I'm so glad that I had a chance to read The Suffragette Scandal by Courtney Milan.  This historical romance is causing me to revise my Romance Top Ten of All Time list.  I should have redone it when I read the Jewish Regency Miss Jacobson's Journey by Carola Dunn in 2016 (which I reviewed here) but I completely forgot.  This means that the two titles at the bottom of my top ten fall off the list leaving The Black Knave by Patricia Potter, a Scottish version of The Scarlet Pimpernel, rounding out the top ten. 


The Suffragette Scandal was such fun!  The heroine of this romance, Frederica Marshall, known to her friends as Free, is the owner/editor of a woman's newspaper in England in 1877.    One of my favorite moments in the book is when she tells the hero Edward Clark that if he ever needs an exclamation point, he should come to see her because she has a whole box of them. 

She really does have a box of exclamation points.  Printing was done with moveable type.  So each page in a newspaper had to be set with little replicas of each letter and punctuation mark.  I'm borrowing from Free's box of exclamation points for this review.  I've used two of them.

It's often said that Jane Eyre is the grandmother of historical romance, but I think that The Suffragette Scandal is directly descended from Shakespeare's Much Ado About Nothing where Beatrice and Benedick have some really great dialogue exchanges.  I was thinking of Benedick calling Beatrice "my lady disdain" while I read this book.  Free could easily be a second "my lady disdain".   Her agile tongue can outwit all the other characters.

Aside from the dialogue, there's also a dramatic plot with threats to the newspaper, arrests at a suffragette rally, blackmail and forgery.  Free's background is amazing because it includes all the risks she took to publish exposés of institutions and businesses that were harming women.

  Edward, the hero, is unconventional because he rejects the class driven values of Victorian society.  This makes him an outcast from his aristocratic family.  His life has been a hard one, but he's a survivor with many talents.  I loved him almost as much as Free.

In the Author's Note, Courtney Milan reveals what I suspected about the inspiration of her feminist heroine.  She is modeled on Nellie Bly, the 19th century American investigative reporter.  I've linked a Biography.com article about her life.  The image of her below is a public domain photo from Wikipedia. 


Those who say that historical romances which contain feminist heroines are all inauthentic are wrong.  Nellie Bly really existed.  There were suffragettes.  Romance writers can draw on a rich heritage of strong women throughout history.   I give The Suffragette Scandal high marks for being a feminist romance that is hugely entertaining.


Sunday, April 1, 2018

Insurrectio: Meeting The Challenge of Keeping A Prequel Trilogy Thrilling

Insurrectio  by Alison Morton is the middle book of a prequel trilogy in the alternate history Roma Nova series which deal with an ancient Roman colony that survived as an independent nation in modern times.  It's of particular interest to me that Roma Nova is a matriarchy, and that the books are neither utopias nor dystopias.  They attempt to portray this society realistically with all its strengths and weaknesses.  This is why I have been reviewing books in the Roma Nova series on this blog.  Here are the links to my reviews of  books focusing on the 21st century protagonist Carina Mitela Inceptio, Carina and Perfiditas.  I have also reviewed the first book in a 20th century trilogy about Carina's grandmother Aurelia hereInsurrectio is the sequel to Aurelia.

I was gifted with a copy of Insurrectio by the author via Book Funnel in return for this honest review.


Those who have read the Carina books have seen references to the events of this novel.   So I pretty much knew what would happen in a general way.  Readers will wonder how a prequel in a thriller series can be suspenseful.

 Believe me, nothing in the Carina books can prepare you for Insurrectio.   This was a true catastrophe for Roma Nova as a society and for Aurelia as an individual.   I realized that the endangerment to the matriarchy in  Perfiditas was less severe precisely because of  the calamity that had occurred in the 20th century.   Relatively few people were willing to allow Roma Nova  to go there again.  For women  like Aurelia, having lived through Insurrectio must have functioned like an inoculation against a deadly plague.  It stiffened their resolve in Perfiditas because they were very aware of the potential consequences.

There was no World War II in Alison Morton's alternate timeline but the vicious ideology of fascism was nevertheless percolating through the continent of Europe.  As we see in our 21st century, fascism can emerge and spill across borders in any time of crisis.   Insurrectio can be viewed as a timely warning to the complacent that it can indeed happen in your country. For those of us who are currently experiencing an outbreak of fascism, the intensity of  the narrative may be magnified.

In this novel Aurelia's courage and fitness to lead are questioned.   Since those who judged Aurelia hadn't been through any similar ordeal, none of them could know how they themselves would react in those circumstances.  In my view, Aurelia did what she felt she needed to do in order to protect the Mitela clan.  I considered the situation traumatic, and was impressed that Aurelia managed to come through it and recover from the associated PTSD. 

Insurrectio may be taking place in the 20th century, but I feel that this powerful thriller speaks to our times, and that Aurelia is a strong survivor who can inspire us all.