ROME BURNING is the second in the ROMANITAS trilogy, based in a Roman Empire that still exists today. This version of the Empire is a mix of the ancient traditions and stylings, alongside technology which bears some, limited, resemblance to current day. The Earth is divided into different and very large nation states and the tension between these states continues to grow, following on, albeit 2 years later, from ROMANITAS - the first book in the trilogy.
This trilogy is a big and rather complicated undertaking for the reader to dive into (I think you'd definitely have to have ROMANITAS before starting on ROME BURNING). For a start there's the nature of the story which is part mystery and intrigue; part epic power struggle; part science fiction / fantasy. The setting is in a world that whilst it's Earth - it's not the one that we know. The world is divided into large nation states, one of which is the Roman Empire. The timeframe is more current day though, but it's not current time as we'd recognise totally. For a start there's the layout of the nation States, but more disconcertingly is the combination of the Roman Empire and technology. The technology is again not quite what we have in the real world, but it's sort of close. Car's of a type, longdictor's (video communicators) go alongside less than advanced medical technology, ancient Roman names and rites. All in all it's a complicated undertaking.
McDougall writes well and that helps the reader of ROME BURNING progress, otherwise there are elements of the book that are slightly off-putting for a reader who is not expecting that alternative history or does not usually read those sorts of books. The thing that the quality of the writing can't quite cover up is some of the melodrama. McDougall likes to put some of her characters through the full wringer of events and emotions and at points it can read a bit like a soap opera.
The beginning of the book incorporates a map of the world with the nation States outlined on it, as well as a more detailed map of the area around the Great Wall of Terranova. There is also a character list which proved useful as the names, frankly, were a bit tricky to keep in your head. At the back of the book there is a Short History of the Roman Empire (as depicted in the trilogy). This was incredibly handy for giving you some feeling of the "history" of the book world.
An odd reading experience for a fan of crime and mystery fiction, ROME BURNING is possibly not quite as engaging as the first book in the trilogy. Fans of science fiction and alternative histories may find it more satisfying.