ROMANITAS - Sophia McDougall

Review Written By
Karen Chisholm

ROMANITAS, as the first book of a trilogy, is toying with a number of central themes.  

There are actually 3 great empires covering the world - the Roman which now spreads into North America, parts of Africa and China.  Sinoa - parts of China, parts of South-Asia, up into Mongolia and Russia and Nionia - spreading it seems almost from Japan, covering Australasia and elsewhere.  

The empires all exist in a timeframe that feels a bit like current day; it was a car accident that killed Marcus' parents after all; but the technology is played with a bit in ROMANITAS as well - all the cities in the Roman Empire have massive communication screens, mechanised crucifixes dot the banks of the Thames.  There is also a bit of woo woo - or the other worldly - Una, after all, can look inside other people's minds.

For all the sweeping nature of the world being built in this first book, the "action" of the book is actually pretty restricted.   It centres on events surrounding 3 teenagers from very different backgrounds who are unexpectedly thrust together.  Marcus Novius, orphaned Imperial heir.  Una, watching the funeral ceremony on one of the giant screens in London, loathes everything Marcus stands for.  She is on her way to rescue her brother, both siblings separated for most of their lives.  Sulien is about to be crucified, falsely accused of rape - brother and sister are slaves, coming from a desperately poor and cruel background.  As unlikely as it seems, all three become fugitives together.

In the initial stages of the novel, the reader is thrust immediately into this unexpected, mixed up world.  That's slightly disconcerting and weird and you're immediately engaged, trying to understand what strange world is this.   The book quickly shape shifts, however, into a sort of journey novel - the story of the 3 teenagers and how they meet and then escape their individual fates takes up a pretty hefty component of the central part of the book and the alternative world sort of disappears a bit.  Whilst there is quite a bit of tension built up in this escape tale, it does move at snails pace.  There is a then a final flurry of activity and some slightly odd positioning of explanation towards the end of the novel (for example the conspiracy against Marcus really only gets explained right at the end - giving it a bit of an afterthought feeling).

Strangely enough for what started out as promising an alternative world scenario, and sort of ends up delivering a form of mixed reality; ROMANITAS morphs into a reasonable character study where the opportunity to get to know the 3 main characters becomes the focus, and even the supporting cast of characters are fairly well-drawn and involving.  Add to that an engaging prose style, if you're willing to allow the Empire to be a mishmash of odds and ends from now and then; then there's probably enough to make you look to the second book to see where the current day Roman Empire is headed.  

The second Book in the Trilogy - Rome Burning was released in 2007.  You might also want to visit the website for the trilogy at

Year of Publication
Book Number (in series)

Imagine the Roman Empire is still flourishing today...

In 2756 AC (2004 AD in Christian terms), magnetic railways span Roman territory from Persia to Terranova and mechanised crucifixes are ranked along the banks of the Thames.  The heir apparent to the imperial throne, Marcus Novius Faustus is mourning the death of his parents following a tragic accident.  As information about the last days of his father's life becomes known to him, Marcus realises that his father's death was no accident and that his own life is in danger.  

Meanwhile an escaped slave girl called Una, who possesses the power to look inside other people's minds, struggles to save her brother Sulien from a London prison ship.  

Review ROMANITAS - Sophia McDougall
Karen Chisholm
Friday, January 4, 2008

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