It’s about characters under pressure, their failings and struggles. Strong, sincere characters like Aurelia Mitela, although worldly wise, think that everybody has good intentions and are ready to do their best. This may seem naive; they consequently become frustrated and angry when things turn out differently. Those who exercise power in a consensual and beneficial way and find they can’t stop a tide of irrationality based on false premises which appeal to people’s deepest emotional instincts and fears, struggle to believe it could happen. Well, it did in 1930s Europe.
If you’ve read the first three books in the Roma Nova series – INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO – you’ll remember that every now and again there are allusions to dark events in the past: Conrad’s parents’ early deaths; his hard childhood; his brutal stepfather, Caius Tellus; the Great Rebellion; the murder of Imperatrix Silvia’s mother; and hard survival after the rebellion.
Conrad, telling Karen (Carina) about his parents :
… a cousin of Conrad’s mother, Constantia. A shadow crossed [Conrad’s] face at her name, but I learned why he had a distinctly un-Latin name.
“My father was Austrian,” he continued. “He was on holiday in the south, met my mother halfway up a mountain. She invited him to stay with her. They’d been together for over three years when—” He stopped and looked down. He wouldn’t say any more.
Carina, after being told about her grandmother during the rebellion:
I watched my seventy year-old grandmother at dinner that evening, trying to visualise her in combat fatigues leading an assault. She would have been forty-seven at the time.
Carina, recapping Conrad’s background to a friend:
Quintus had raised Conrad in the hard school of rural poverty after the rebellion had been defeated. Thirty years ago, Conrad’s stepfather, Quintus’s brother, Caius Tellus, had launched a coup and imposed a brutal regime that lasted barely eighteen months. But, starting years before, he’d destroyed Conrad’s innocence.
Conrad, explaining who a fearsome older woman was:
“She’s Volusenia the Younger, Marcella Volusenia, if you will, and was the second deputy legate after Caius Tellus’s rebellion. She was my mentor within the PGSF – I owe her so much. There was no favouritism.” He half-smiled at his memories. “In fact, she was quite hard, but she stood up for me when I was treated unfairly because of my name. Most of all, she taught me how to endure.”
Carina, considering her nemesis:
Like Caius Tellus who’d married Conrad’s mother and three years after her death launched a coup, overthrowing and killing Imperatrix Severina, Silvia’s mother. I shuddered.
Aurelia, urging Carina to action:
“You have to stop this girl,” [Aurelia] gasped. “She’s Caius. All over again.”
No. Not Caius Tellus the traitor who had wrecked Roma Nova. How could Nicola be like that monster?
“Don’t agitate yourself, Nonna, please.”
“No, listen.” Her eyes glinted, hardened, surrounded by bloodshot and discoloured whites. “Promise me. Or she’ll destroy you all.”
“It’s all right, Nonna. We’ve got her. She’s in prison, awaiting trial for what she did to Allegra. Please don’t worry.”
“You don’t understand. Ask Quintus.”
What part had Carina’s clever and no-nonsense grandmother, Aurelia, played in the lead up to the rebellion and after it? How was her story tied up with that of Caius the traitor? In INCEPTIO, the rebellion had been over for more than twenty years, but it had a long reach for modern Roma Novans; its consequences come back with a vengeance in SUCCESSIO.
By the time I was finishing SUCCESSIO, I’d decided I had to write Aurelia’s story as a young woman, hence AURELIA which came out last year. And as I finished drafting AURELIA, I knew I had to tell the story of the rebellion, or ‘insurrectio’ in Latin. So in a few more days’ time, the world will know the story, too.
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