Anna Reviews: PERFIDITAS by Alison Morton

Sometimes, somebody writes a review that knocks your socks off. Sometimes it’s about a book that YOU wrote. I submitted PERFIDITAS to ‘The Review‘ and offered a signed paperback as a giveaway which is the standard procedure. Read what happened…

Perfiditas - Front Cover_520x800Anna Reviews: Perfiditas by Alison Morton

Review by Anna Belfrage

See bottom of page for details on how to enter the draw for a signed paperback – Drawing on August Tuesday 4th 

To write alternative history carries some likeness to writing fantasy, in that the world creation is a fundamental part of the writing endeavour. In difference to fantasy, writers of alternative history have to tread a very fine line between the invented and the impossible, i.e. expectations are that the writer creates a society we, as readers firmly rooted in our reality, can conceive as being an alternative outcome had things been somewhat different.

Authors like Robert Harris do this with panache. Writers like Stephen Fry do it with ironic humour. And writers like Alison Morton just do it, a few deft brushstrokes, no more, and Roma Nova is a feasible little European country in a world where Adolf Hitler never happened and where the northern parts of the American continent remain divided between former English, French and Spanish dominions.

Roma Nova lies snuggled into the folds of the Alps. A last refuge for a group of Romans fleeing the devastation of the Germanic invasions, this is where Roman Senator Apulius and his family and followers settled, ready to make a last stand if needed. Our staunch Roman was married to a spirited Celtic woman who gave him four equally spirited daughters but no son. And so, through a combination of chance and expediency, Roma Nova developed into a matriarchial society, a country where the family heads always are female, but where traditions and concepts of duty towards the state remain rooted in Roman values.

So well does Ms. Morton paint this little country of hers that I find myself considering just how to travel there – by car? By train? Until I remember that I can’t go to Roma Nova – not outside the pages of Ms. Morton’s novels. Fortunately, she has so far written four and is intent on writing a couple more.

Now, as we all know, a setting does not a novel make. However intriguing Roma Nova is, however fascinating Ms. Morton’s descriptions are of Saturnalia celebrations, of funerals as per ancient Roman rites, it would be a thin soup indeed had Ms. Morton not also gifted us with Carina Mitela and her husband Conrad Mitelus.

Carina Mitela became a friend of mine in Inceptio, the first of the series. Tough when so required, careful with whom she allows to penetrate the shield of reserve with which she manages her life and her emotions, she is a woman who believes in herself, believes even more in right and wrong, and who is dedicated enough to doing her duty that she will risk her own life if so required.

Carina was not always Carina. Born in the E.U.S. (Eastern United States), she used to be Karen, a rather downtrodden and insecure Karen, until one day she was appraised of her family in Roma Nova and whisked back to her ancestral country by Conrad, her husband-to-be. When Perfiditas opens, Carina has lived in Roma Nova for seven years or so, successful in her military career, proud mother of three and happily married to Conrad.

Her husband is as dedicated, as tough, as she is. He is also somewhat damaged due to a harsh childhood, and his reluctance to talk about his experiences leave him far more vulnerable than he realises – or at least wants to accept. Instead of a touchy-feely approach to these sensitive memories, Conrad has recreated himself from a hurting, wounded boy to an efficient and self-sufficient military leader, capable of much warmth and affection towards those he loves – as long as there is no conflict between his private life and what he perceives as his duty to Roma Nova.

At times, these two people tear each other apart – and things are not exactly simplified by the fact that Conrad is Carina’s commanding officer. Sometimes, when Conrad makes a call he considers correct in his role as Praetorian Legate, he is at the same time figuratively back-handing his wife over the face – or so she feels. Are there consequences? Of course.

Ms. Morton does a great job of describing the tension caused by Conrad repeatedly setting duty before Carina. Yes, sometimes Carina breaks every rule in the book – for all the right reasons – so maybe he’s entitled to some irritation, but there are times when this reader wants to take the stupid man by the shoulders and shake him until his teeth rattle, so stiff and insensitive does he seem. Besides, Conrad has problems handling the fact that at times it’s Carina saving him from dire death rather than the other way around. Especially when she uses her underworld network to do so…especially when it is rather apparent Carina is not entirely unaffected by the leader of this network.

Which, just by chance, brings us to Apollodorus, the enigmatic man who has previously helped Carina out of a tight spot or two in a rather unorthodox manner. Apollodorus is a man of night and shadow, instinctively disliked by Conrad, discreetly admired by Carina – after all, she more or less owes the man her life. Cultivated, smooth and possessed of eyes as dark as pools of pitch, Apollodorus has only ever loved one woman – Carina. No wonder Conrad raises his hackles whenever Apollodorus is around.

It irritates Carina that Conrad will not extend the benefit of the doubt to Apollodorus. It makes Conrad see  that his wife does not steer clear of this dangerous, amoral man, a man as subtle as a stalking leopard, ruthless and efficient, unfailingly polite and always in control. Apollodorus is a puppet-master, and just how intricately he weaves his various threads is revealed in bits and pieces, causing Perfiditas to twist and turn like a trapped snake.

Other than the three protagonists, Ms. Morton has gifted us with a broad cast of characters it is easy to relate to, all the way from Carina’s impressive grandmother, the mater familias Aurelia, to former gladiatrix Mossia. With an economy of words, a few lines of description, no more, she brings her extensive cast to life, making each and every one of them distinctive.

The plot is skillfully constructed: in this case Roma Nova is threatened by a band of determined coup-makers who want nothing more than to return Roma Nova to its true Roman roots, i.e. relegate women back to a position of invisibility, reduced to being wives and mothers, subservient to men. As a modern woman, I find the matriarchal society portrayed by Ms. Morton quite fascinating – even more so because fundamentally Roma Nova is an egalitarian society – men and women are true equals in all aspects of life. The wannabe coup-makers don’t agree: they are sick of the rule of women and set out to throw off this terrible yoke of oppression.

Nothing is ever as simple as it seems, and as Carina digs deeper into a plot that not only threatens her country but also her loved ones, she uncovers one layer after the other of rot. In defence of her own, Carina is formidable, holding herself together even during those periods when Conrad leaves her to do battle alone. But it costs her, and her vulnerability, her sensation of abandonment when Conrad retreats into professionalism rather than supporting her, his wife, is excellently depicted.

To an exciting plot and well-developed characters, must be added the casual if precise descriptions, bringing to life everything from the holding cells of the Praetorian Guard Special Forces, to the streets and buildings of Roma Nova. In expressions, in off-hand depictions of traditions and rituals, Ms. Morton’s passion for things truly Roman shines through. Ms. Morton has done her research, and so heavy togas are discarded casually, studded sandals clip over tiled floors, young girls are proud of their new pallas, the atriums are adorned by the statues of the ancestors – all of this without ever becoming contrived.

Ms. Morton takes her readers for quite the ride in this book, and passages of introspection vie for space with fast-paced action scenes that have this reader holding her breath – or chewing her nails. While Ms. Morton writes strong and fluid prose, it is her dialogue that blows me away. Pitch-perfect, distinctive and vivid, it brings Carina and all the rest to vibrant life, offering insight into the various character’s thoughts without ever sacrificing rhythm and pace.

In conclusion, Perfiditas is a great read, a book that has you saying, “Hmm?” without raising your eyes from the page should anyone attempt to talk to you while immersed. Here and there, I spot a missing quotation mark, but such minor beauty spots are, in this case, more like freckles – distracting, but also cute.

Unfortunately for me, I have already read all Ms. Morton’s books. I crave another – soon! So, Ms. Morton, to paraphrase a famous Latin quote: Scribere necesse est, vivere non est necesse or in other words, please get on with it and write the next one!
Anna Belfrage

To enter our drawing for a FREE signed paperback copy of Perfiditas, simply comment below OR at this review’s Facebook thread, located here.

Original post: http://thereview2014.blogspot.fr/2015/07/anna-reviews-perfiditas-by-alison-morton.html

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See what I mean? And do go and look at The Review – they have a Facebook page as well as the blog.

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

Quebec - a hub of history

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Samuel de Champlain overlooking the St Lawrence River

I’m delighted to have visited Québec, a city at a pivotal geographic and historic place. I’m told it’s the oldest established city in North America. Well, Jacques Cartier planted a cross in the Gaspé Peninsula in  1534, claiming the land in the name of King Francis I. But although French fishing fleets sailed to the Atlantic coast and into the St. Lawrence River, making alliances with native Americans, it wasn’t really until Samuel de Champlain’s expedition in 1603 that formal exploration started. In 1608, he founded a trading post by the Saint-Laurent river (the future  Québec City) with the intention of making the area part of the French colonial empire – “la Nouvelle France”.

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Rock (with green plaque) marking the spot where Montgomery fell

We’ve only dipped into the history briefly during our visit, walking the Plains of Abraham where British General Wolfe defeated the Marquis de Montcalm in 1759, and the fortifications and walls defended by General Carleton against the American expeditionary force in 1775 led by General Richard Montgomery and a certain General Benedict Arnold.

In 1812, Thomas Jefferson famously  wrote to William Duane in August 1812 “The acquisition of Canada this year, as far as the neighborhood of Quebec, will be a mere matter of marching; & will give us experience for the attack of Halifax the next, & the final expulsion of England from the American continent.

Well, that didn’t work.

Just from talking to history buffs (and normal people!) here in Canada, I gather the war  of 1812, which actually went on until 1814, is considered hugely significant in the nation’s history; the incursion from the south wasn’t welcome to the mixture of former American Loyalists, new settlers and many French Canadians.

I dug a little deeper and found “The War of 1812″, a  Canadian history site produced jointly by the Historica Dominion Institute, the Royal Canadian Geographic Society and Parks Canada.

‘Washington had expected the largely American population of Upper Canada to throw off the “British yoke” as soon as its army crossed the border. This did not happen. Lured northwards by free land and low taxes, the settlers wanted to be left alone. Thus the British and Loyalist elite were able to set Canadians on a different course from that of their former enemy. And the growing belief that they, the civilian soldiers, and not the First Nations and British regulars, had won the war – more mythic than real – helped to germinate the seeds of nationalism in the Canadas.

Canada owes its present shape to negotiations that grew out of the peace, while the war itself – or the myths created by the war – gave Canadians their first sense of community and laid the foundation for their future nationhood. To this extent the Canadians were the real winners of the War of 1812.’

Interesting how different people see the same event…

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out more about Roma Nova, its origins, stories and heroines…

Are my books high-concept?

Carina2_tilt_portraitNearly five years ago, the late Paul Sussman, Egyptologist and thriller writer, told me on my Arvon Foundation course that INCEPTIO was high-concept.

I didn’t really have a clue what that meant, but I nodded and thanked him. Did it mean it was highbrow? No, despite all the Roman content, it was an adventure story, a thriller, a story of female empowerment, if you want to be grand, but not the Great British Novel.

I didn’t think much more about this until a reader described INCEPTIO as ‘Falco meets The Hunger Games’. Flattery indeed! What if those two tropes were combined? Did that mean high concept, or just a bit barmy?

Next, Sue Cook, the writer and TV personality, said my books were so visual, they were crying out to be made into films. Was this what was meant by high-concept? Coincidently, I read an article on the subject and was a little dismayed to find it meant writing in order to pitch it succinctly, i.e. a simplistic story. Now whatever my stories are, I don’t think they’re simplistic! Deflated, I decided to ignore ‘high-concept’.

RomanHowever, I kept seeing the term bandied about and remembering Paul’s comment all those years ago, my curiosity rekindled. As I read on, I discovered that few agreed on a definition of high concept. Was it just a method of pitching or had it widened  into a way of describing certain types of stories?

As posts and articles popped up along with ripostes and agreement, arguments and counter-arguments, I noticed that new definitions were emerging.

So I propose the following requirements for high concept:

The premise should be both original and unique
It’s not necessary to reinvent the wheel. A traditional subject, but with an unexpected approach/environment/switch qualifies the material as original. However, uniqueness means being one-of-a-kind, first time, and incomparable.

Sparks a ‘what if ‘ question
What if X or Y happened? What if Z still existed? If it time had gone off on an alternative path? A succinct question for the back cover!

Highly entertaining
Gets the reader turning the pages, eager or even desperate to know what happens next. If they are interested purely on an intellectual basis, then although the idea may be interesting, engaging, and curious, it’s not entertaining.

Possesses a clear emotional focus
The emotional stakes must be high and immediate. Simply put, the story should grab the reader at a primal level and not let go: not soft and gentle feelings, but fear, joy, hate, passionate love, rage, despair, betrayal.

The story has to have mass appeal
An easy to grasp idea with a heart or essence that everybody can see, understand and engage with clearly and immediately.

Highly visual
The reader (or listener) should be able to imagine the action scenes in her head as the writer describes them. Is it filmic? And in colour? Books with cinematic imagery are almost always high-concept stories.

You can probably see where I’m going with this… 😉 Readers have been kind enough to report all these elements in the Roma Nova books. Perhaps I should now be content to call them high concept. Or should I think again?

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

Rome and Washington DC

IMG_1540As I walked past the colonnaded white buildings around the Capitol, the National Mall and the Federal Triangle, I knew I couldn’t be the first visitor to make a connection between Washington DC and ancient Rome. Both sat/sit on a series of hills and both were/are centres of world power

The massive scale of prestigious buildings, the columns, porticos, iconic status, eagles and strong, straight lines would be very familiar any ancient Roman.

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The roof of the final version of the Jefferson Memorial (left) is based on the Pantheon in Rome (Jefferson’s favourite building, so it is said). The Lincoln Memorial (below right) although more Greek in style, to my mind, would not be amiss in the Roman world.

And of course, there is a senate here and a Capitol(ine) Hill. At the US Capitol, Italian artist Constantino Brumidi painted George Washington ascending to Heaven, surrounded by such Roman deities as Minerva, Neptune and Vulcan. In short, the connections, imagined or real, are many.

Lincoln Memorial

But I discovered that one part of the area where Washington came to be built was once called Rome…

In the “Original Patentees of Land at Washington,” by Bessie Wilmarth Gahn is the record:
“No. 7.Francis Pope, owner of “Rome” on the Tyber, June 5, 1663.”
In the early records of Annapolis, one finds:
ffrancis Pope, transported since 1635; wife 1649
And in the proceedings of the early Assemblies:
ffrancis Pope—member of the Assembly in September, 1642, and 1667 and 1670, he was Justice of the Peace for Charles County, Maryland.
In an old volume of records at Annapolis, Liber 6, folio 318:
“June 5th, 1663, Lyd out for Francis Pope of this Province, Gent., a parcel of land in Charles County called Rome, lying on the East side of the Anacostian River [meaning here, the main channel of the Potomac], beginning at a marked oak standing by the River side, the bounded tree of Captain Robert Troop and running north by the river for breadth the length 200 perches to a bounded oak standing at the mought of a bay or inlet called Tiber, bounding on the north by the said Lett and a line drawn east for the length of 320 perches to a bounded oak standing in the woods on the East with a line drawn south from the end of the former line until you meet with the exterior bounded tree of Robert Troop called Scotland Yard on the south with the said land, on the west with the said river (Tyber), containing and now laid out for 400 acres more or less.”

Capt. Robert Troop’s “Scotland Yard,” itself north of the tract “New Troy” which extended far north of the Capitol and Congressional Library of today, was therefore the southern boundary of Mr. Pope’s Rome.
(Sources: http://www.genealogy.com/forum/surnames/topics/pope/3903/) Much more about the early history of the Capitol site from the US Capitol Historical Society http://www.capitolhillhistory.org/library/04/Jenkins%20Hill.html

For the love of Rome…
Supreme CourtAs Enlightenment gentlemen, the founding fathers of the new United States rather liked the idea of a representative democracy modelled on that of the Roman Republic, but they also conceived of a capital city that looked like Rome — or what they thought Rome looked like. In fact, during the Republic (traditionally dated to 509 BC, and ending in 27 BC) Rome was largely brick, not a city of shiny marble, which came later, started under the stewardship of Augustus and his right-hand man, Agrippa.

Of course, the Roman Republic eventually fell and the Roman Empire eventually crumbled. And the sharp minded might note the irony that the first volume of Edward Gibbon’s The History of the Decline and Fall of the Roman Empire was published in 1776, the year of American Independence.

UnionStationDC

Union Station, DC

New – a late addition
A bonus picture I spotted when reviewing my photos…

Take out the electric street light and you’d be in  ancient Rome.

 

 

 

 

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

INCEPTIO selected as Indie Book of the Day!

Delighted to discover that INCEPTIO had been nominated for the IDB award and even more so when I received an email saying it had been selected  as Indie Book of the Day today, 15 June 2015!

They sent me a shiny certificate…

Royal Certificates

 

and a personalised badge:
ibdbadge

Unexpected and so more pleasurable!

 

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers, INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO. The fourth book, AURELIA, is now out.

Find out Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways by signing up for her free monthly email newsletter.

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