The world of CARINA

CARINA launched as an ebook in November amid lovely comments, tweets and posts and reviews are starting to accumulate (Exciting!). It’s now available in print (Even more exciting!).

Carina visits a number of places when she is sent to North America to carry out an important mission and I thought you might like to find out the ‘North America’ of the alternative Roman world.

Roma Nova itself is based on the foundation of small fiefdoms and city states established at the time the Roman Empire was fragmenting. My heroines’ ancestors, who worshipped the traditional Roman deities, left Rome in AD 395 to protect themselves from Christian persecution. You can read the full story here. Their presence as a tough little country robustly dealing with all-comers changed the face of Europe and later the rest of the world. The effect can be compared to ripples after a stone is thrown in a pond or the famous ‘butterfly of doom’

Roma Nova lies ‘somewhere in central Europe’ but has borders with the Italian Confederation (Confederatio Italiano) and New Austria (Neuösterreich). As members of the European Economic Area based in Berlin, Roma Nova enjoys friendly relations with Bavaria and Prussia in the German Federation and ‘most favoured nation’ terms with the United Kingdom to the north.

Speaking of which, in the Roma Novan world, the last British Governor-General didn’t leave North America until 1867 and in Carina’s time, Britons still own considerable stretches of land and business interests. The British and Dutch co-ruled Manhattan and the surrounding area, from the 1600s, with Britain the junior partner. But in 1813, due to economic and political problems at home, the last Dutch Governor-General sailed out of New York in 1813, leaving the British to rule for another fifty years.

Dutch sailing ship circa 1813

The last Dutch Governor-General sails away

The other colonies on the American continent? The rebellion in the 1770s was a ramshackle affair and the leaders squabbled too much to form a united movement. Wisely, the British granted parliamentary representation, full trading and civic rights equal to those in the mother country. The colonies known as the Eastern United States (EUS) were permitted to expand west to the Mississippi River and north to the Great Lakes with Georgetown (later Washington) as their capital. The territories beyond the original colonies were supposed to be called the Western United States, but the name faded away as the Easterners become dominant.

Map of North America 1748

North America 1748 in our timeline, but it shows the French territory and the English colonies clearly.


New York became an autonomous city, although staying within the EUS. Further west lie the Indigenous Nations Territories and the Spanish Empire lands. Louisiane gained autonomy from France under Napoleon V after the Great War of 1925-35.

After many tussles with its identity and protests and negotiation with the home country, Quebec finally became the fully separate République Québecoise shortly before the time of INCEPTIO. It does retain trading and cultural ties to Imperial France.

English-speaking Canada is more or less where it is in our timeline. Phew!

INCEPTIO starts the Roma Nova series off in New York and from the first sentence you know you are in a different place:

The boy lay in the dirt in the centre of New York’s Kew Park, blood flowing out of both his nostrils, his fine blond hair thrown out in little strands around his head.

Kew Park, not Central Park

Beyond the trees behind it, the windows in the red-brick Dutch highthouses along Verhulst Street threw the full sun back.  

There is no Verhulst Street alongside Central Park.
(In 1625, the real Willem Verhulst oversaw the decision to locate a main fortress and town, New Amsterdam, on the tip of Manhattan Island in the colony of New Netherland. It was the first permanent European settlement, later the city of New York.)

‘If you want to be a real tourist, you could take a trip around the harbour,’ I said. ‘You know, Fort Amsterdam, Hudson statue, Franklin Island. Or a comedy club or a show. Maybe Jonas Bronck’s zoo or a walk around the old Dutch Quarter in Manhattan, or the Georgian lanes.’

None of which exists in our reality, but all of which are credible in the Roma Nova timeline.

Row houses (terraces houses) on the Plateau in Montreal

Row houses (terraces houses) on the Plateau in Montreal

In CARINA, nearly half of the action takes place in North America. Our heroine lands in Montreal in the République Québecoise. I drew on my own visit there and to Quebec to flesh out the location detail. It’s not entirely inconceivable that this French-speaking part of Canada could have become autonomous by Carina’s time, although it was still a French imperial territory in the 1980s when Aurelia led the action in INSURRECTIO.

We’d brought a supply of Napoleonic louis as well as the livre québecois they’d recently introduced; both were used at present. We had enough for our visit, but on the way back from the supermarché on the Avenue du Mont-Royal we checked out the nearest bank in case we needed more.

This is another essential part of world building. Time has to pass; countries, treaties, governments as well as people should change.

Only about 10% of research should appear in any finished novel; a historical note and links to an author’s website can provide more. Like the Ruritania created by Anthony Hope, or the 1960s Germania of Robert Harris’s Fatherland, I don’t go into too much detail, just enough to set the tone and paint a sketch for readers to fill in.

Has this given you a taste of the world of Roma Nova? Now read on…


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIOPERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, is available now.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Why is CARINA (just) a novella?

Good question! I’ll try and explain…

We’re still in Roma Nova, the remnant of the Roman Empire that has toughed it out into the modern age. It’s an alternative 21st century with many aspects exactly the same as in our own timeline, but some  are very very different; Praetorian Guards for one. They guard the imperatrix of Roma Nova and act as an intelligence and special forces service.

INCEPTIO, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO tell of  episodes in Roma Novan Carina Mitela’s life at ages 24/25, 32 and 39/40. I chose to skip other years as her life wasn’t at a special crisis point until the time of each of the stories in those three books. This reflects our own lives with brief highs in a continuous flow. I would think, though, that Carina’s life is generally more exciting than our own, even in the more mundane periods.

At the end of INCEPTIO, we leave Carina as a newly minted Praetorian officer off on a mission in the borderlands of Roma Nova. (Sorry if that’s a spoiler, but it’s a series; she has to survive the first book.) When we meet her at the beginning of PERFIDITAS, she’s a captain, heading her own branch and part of the command group, albeit as a junior member. She’s confident and competent with a record of success. A bridge across those six years seemed a good idea.

In PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO, I make allusions to past incidents when Carina skated near the edge or crossed the line, such as the climbing race with Daniel when she was punished for disobeying standing orders. Not only did she catch seven days in the cells, but also missed her daughter’s fourth birthday. In CARINA, we see how this happened and the consequences…

Readers have asked me what happened to various characters in INCEPTIO. It’s been a real pleasure seeing some of them again from the perspective of six books later. I re-read INCEPTIO and PERFIDITAS in an almost studious way to check some of the references and loved meeting these characters again. Readers will also find in CARINA brief touches of foreshadowing for characters in PERFIDITAS. Interweaving the stories behind the stories in alternative history gives the characters their own backstory and history.

Original photo used for the cover cityscape

About half of CARINA is set in ‘North America’; even the cityscape on the cover reflects this. (Leave a comment if you recognise this 😉 ) Here, the République Québecoise has just won its autonomy from France, although Napoleon VI’s face stares out from the old currency notes still in circulation. The Eastern United States with its federated system and autonomous city states still remains a danger for Carina, so it was very tempting to bring that potential disaster into the story. On a personal note, I’ve loved weaving the experience of my 2015 seven week trip to the US and Canada into this story.

So why a shorter book?
I wanted to write a standalone adventure for Carina – she deserved it – but not one with the same complexity and depth of disaster for Roma Nova. When I read, I can’t bear ‘padding’ or dragging out for artificial reasons. I wrote the story as it came out of my mind and its length reflects the action within it. I did set a target word count between 30,000 words and 40,000 as I wanted to see if I could do it and that’s exactly what happened!

Readers seem to like short, sharp reads and I hope I’ve given them this and also added to the Roma Nova canon. Over to you!

Available on Amazon  Kobo  iBooks  B&N NOOK  and in print through your local independent bookshop or favourite online site.


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIAINSURRECTIO and RETALIO.  Audiobooks are available for the first four of the series.

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Maps and Rome

The old clichéd saying that ‘Rome wasn’t built in a day’ is true, but so was its ‘decline and fall’ equally slow. Going from its traditionally accepted date of foundation the Roman Empire in the West of 753 BC, it lasted 1229 years in the West until the abdication of Romulus Augustulus in 476 AD.

Maps can show us the passing of that time from the period when Rome was a scruffy village, then under Etruscan influence, then starting to break out in Italy by 400 BC. But it was still not a power in any sense; its neighbours were bigger and better established.

[CC BY-SA 3.0], via Wikimedia Commons

Maps also show the complexity of the Roman Empire. Rome eventually grew to a city with a population of over 1 million, something not seen again until the 19th century when the Victorians ‘invented’ (read re-discovered) many aspects of life similar to that of the Ancient Romans, whether taps, cement or legal process. Anyway, back to Rome… The sheer number and complexity of public buildings is impressive as shown by this plan of Imperial Rome drawn up by Samual Platner in his 1904 study (Places and buildings in red date from the Republic):

Samuel Ball Platner’s The Topography and Monuments of Ancient Rome (Boston: Allyn and Bacon, 1904)

Wherever Rome went, they built roads. We know that good infrastructure facilitates movement of people and goods, often resulting in increased trade, prosperity and life chances, but the Romans built them to move the military around quickly; everything else was a bonus. In an offshore island full of stroppy Britons, fast transport of troops was a strategic and tactical necessity.

Roman Roads in Britain around 150 AD/CE. (Public domain)

Trajan (b. 53 AD, reigned 98 – 117 AD) was the soldier-emperor who presided over the greatest military expansion in Roman history; the empire reached its maximum territorial extent by the time of his death. He was also known for his philanthropic rule, extensive public building programs and implementing social welfare policies, which earned him a reputation as the second of the ‘Five Good Emperors’. The Romans had ‘never had it so good’, to misquote 1950s British prime minister Harold Macmillan.

The Roman Empire at its greatest extent in the time of Trajan (Public domain)

By the time the imaginary Roma Novans left the city of Rome, the Empire had split, re-formed, was on the point of definitively splitting into east and west, and was Christianised.

Historical Atlas, William R Shepherd, 1923

Over eighty years later, a year after the last western emperor abdicated, only rump states remained in the west.

Europe in 477 AD. Highlighted areas are Roman lands that survived the deposition of Romulus Augustulus. (Thomas Lessman CC BY-SA 3.0)


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April  2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

RETALIO is awarded the B.R.A.G. Medallion!

Click on the image for much more

You see the subject line at the top of the email:
BRAG Medallion Award
You gnaw your nails.

You read the first line of the email:
We have completed the review process for your book “RETALIO
Oh, gods on Olympus!
You gnaw your nails down to the quick.

You read on:
“...and I am pleased to inform you that it has been selected to receive a B.R.A.G. Medallion.”
You kiss the computer screen and collapse back in your chain in relief. Then you pour out a large glass of bubbly, then a second.

More seriously, this is wonderful news. This is the toughest quality mark and award system I know for indie books; only 10% of books submitted make it to the award. Ten (yes, ten) readers have to give it their approval on the basis of title, cover, plot, characters, dialogue, writing style, chapters, copy editing, developmental editing and formatting. that’s one hell of a tall order.The ultimate question they have  to answer: would they recommend it to their best friend? Think about that. If you gave your best friend a duff book recommendation there could be serious consequences for that relationship. That’s how sharp that risk is.

Oh, B.R.A.G.? It stands for Book Reader Appreciation Group, in case you wondered. I’ve always maintained that the readers are the final judges. In this case they truly are!

And I love the additional comment:
Although I have not read the entire series, I did enjoy this book. I found the writing excellent and the characters and storyline well drawn. This creative account of fictional history is so believable that I had to remind myself it is made-up! It was full of action with a compelling story – I will go back now and read all of the series.

Can’t really as for more, can you?


Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April  2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

One of my favourite Roman fiction authors – Lindsey Davis

Lindsey Davis with Alison at the 2014 Historical Novel Society Conference

I was lurking in Waterstone’s Tunbridge Wells one day in the mid 1990s. (It had an apostrophe in the name then so I’ve left it in for authenticity.) My favourite genres were historical fiction, sci-fi, thrillers and crime. Wandering round the tables and shelves, nothing struck me, nothing shouted ‘Me! Me! Me!’ I was in Crime, profoundly unhappy that I was actually going to leave the shop empty-handed. I was ready to commit a crime myself.

Turning to leave, I glanced down at the bottom shelf and saw a series of colourful titles by the same author. Ooh! A series. I picked one up. Oh gods, they were set in Roman times. Even better, in Vespasian’s reign – my favourite emperor. I scanned the back cover of Book 1 (The Silver Pigs) and laughed out loud.

Rome AD 70
Private eye Marcus Didius Falco knows his way round the eternal city. He can handle the muggers, the police and most of the girls. But one fresh 16 year old, Sosia Camillina, finds him a case no Roman should be getting his nose into…

Sosia’s uncle is a senator with suspicions. Some friends, Romans and countrymen are doing a highly profitable, if highly illegal trade in silver ingots, or pigs.
For Falco, it’s the start of a murderous trail that leads far beyond the seven hills. To a godforsaken land called Britain, to Emperor Vespasian himself and to Helena Justina – a lady leagues out of Falco’s class.

He should have listened to his mother. She always said girls would be his downfall…

I almost tripped over my feet getting to the cash desk with my £5.99. I returned two days later and bought the next one (Shadows in Bronze). Thus began my love affair with Falco. (Not him personally; Helena Justina would have had my eyes out and gently toasted them for supper while reciting an ode in elegant tones.) After I’d read all those already out I had to wait patiently for the next one.

What was so gripping about these twenty books? The accurate historical detail vividly brought to life, the complex plots completely woven into Roman life in the first century, the banter between the characters? Yes, of course, but it was the character of Falco with his outstanding individualism almost unrestrained by the social framework of his time. Beleaguered by his scoundrel father, hen-pecked by his mother and sisters, and ‘persuaded’  by the clever, generous and loving Helena Justina, he weaves his way, not always successfully through every aspect of Roman life.

Falco solves mysteries, trivial, brutal and imperial, collects taxes, reads his (dreadful) poetry, slaves in a mine, dines with emperors and travels across the whole Roman Empire. Over twenty books, he struggles with security, his urge to survive control by his womenfolk (daughters included), and his nemesis, Anacrites. He is a (generally) faithful friend to his old army comrade, Petro, and together they take the final step which every reader realises they must.

Lindsey Davis took a break from Falco to return to her first deep love, the English Civil War, in Rebels and Traitors, a massive 742-page volume with all the intriguing social, domestic and political detail of her favourite historical period. While it was undoubtedly a historical tour de force, and did feature the story of star-crossed lovers Gideon and Juliana, it was not quite what Falco readers, including me, expected. It was a ‘book of the heart’, I feel.

Master and God saw a return to Rome, but in the dangerous times of Domitian, Vespasian’s paranoid second son. Again, Davis presents the lives of everyday, if slightly special, people; Gaius Vinius Clodianus, a physically and psychologically scarred centurion, nevertheless an honourable but emotionally closed man, and Flavia Lucilla, imperial hairdresser with access to the privileged but dangerous  inner circle of the emperor. Cleverly, Davis tells us about the oppressive reign of Domitian while drawing for us a heartachingly tender story of Gaius and Lucilla. One to read and re-read!

And most recently, a new series of books centred on Flavia Albia, Falco’s British-born adopted daughter and already established female investigator when the first title, The Ides of April, opens. I had hoped to see my old friends Falco and Helena, but they are only referred to in passing. Lindsey Davis is concentrating firmly on her new heroine! The latest, The Third Nero, came out in April this year. (2017)

I’ve had the enormous pleasure of meeting Lindsey Davis four times and speaking at the same event once. At the Historical Novel Society (HNS) conference in 2012, I was so overcome by seeing her that I was seized by stage fright and couldn’t get a word out. (I’d been fine with Diana Gabaldon, joking and chatting.) By 2014, I managed some half-sensible conversation and even shared a social cup of tea with her. She’s friendly and polite, but crumbs, what a sharp intelligence! In Denver, at the 2015 HNS conference, I felt at ease with her and at the Wrexham Carnival of Words 2016 after the history evening, we ate chips and drank red wine together as all the speakers got together afterwards.

So I raise a glass to Falco, Helena, Flavia Albia, Gaius, Lucilla, Gideon and Juliana and to their creator, Lindsey Davis. Sanitas bona!

Originally published on the Discovering Diamonds Review blog

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers INCEPTIO, PERFIDITASSUCCESSIOAURELIA and INSURRECTIO. The sixth, RETALIO, came out in April  2017. Audiobooks now available for the first four of the series

Get INCEPTIO, the series starter, for FREE when you sign up to Alison’s free monthly email newsletter. You’ll also be first to know about Roma Nova news and book progress before everybody else, and take part in giveaways.

Mos maiorum – 'doing the right thing' in ancient Rome

Unwritten codes of behaviour, maintaining standards, behaving ‘properly’ are as old as the hills, at least as old as the Seven Hills of Rome.

The  mos maiorum, loosely translated as ‘ancestral custom’ was the unwritten code of ancient Rome. It included time-honoured principles, behavioural models and social practices that affected every aspect of life in ancient Rome – private, political, and military. It didn’t need explaining except to barbarians.

Of course, written law was the basis of Roman legal practice and jurisprudence, but mos maiorum was what everybody fell back on in cases of doubt or tie break, or if an orator wanted to call on core traditional Roman practice to clinch his argument. By its very nature, it was the core concept of Roman traditionalism and I suspect much eye-rolling went on by the younger generation when it was quoted at them by the older. However, going against the mos maiorum could be tricky as it was the social glue of Rome and beloved of the older generation who usually held the political and economic power in public and social power in the private sphere of the home.

Family and society
The Roman term familia is better translated as ‘household’ as it included every person attached to the owner’s family from the head of household to the youngest slave. Reflecting the patriarchal society itself, the head of a Roman household, the pater familias, was the senior male. The family hierarchy was traditional and self-perpetuating, supported by and supporting the mos maiorum. The pater familias held absolute authority over his familia including the power of death and the legal right to sell any member of his household including his own children. The familia was an autonomous unit within society and a model for the social order. However, the pater familias was expected to exercise this power with moderation and to act responsibly on behalf of his family. The risk and pressure of social censure if he failed to live up to expectations was also a form of mos. Sanctions did evolve for mistreatment of slaves as the empire grew and women gained more rights and protections, particularly in the third and fourth centuries AD.

The patron/client relationship
The defining social relationship of ancient Rome was that between patron and client. In basic terms, a patron was a person of wealth and influence for whom the client did favours and supported, especially in elections. In turn, the patron would protect the client and hand out commissions, hopefully lucrative. A client might ask the patron for assistance with seeking redress or for advancement of a family member or himself. Having an influential patron enhanced the client’s status. Both words mean different things today, but there are still echoes such as when a distinguished person becomes the patron of a charity and lends that charity status and ‘pulling power’ with the media.

Although the obligations of this ancient relationship were mutual, they were also hierarchical. A patron might himself be under an obligation to someone of higher status or greater power, and a client might have more than one patron, whose interests might come into conflict. And, of course a client of one man might well be the patron of others further down the food chain. Any patron would have several or many clients who would attend upon him each morning in the hope of attracting his attention. If the familia was the basic unit underlying society, these hierarchical networks created the bonds that made a complex society possible.

Although much activity within patron-client relations related to the law courts, patronage was not itself a legal contract; the pressures to uphold one’s obligations were moral, founded on the quality of fides (trust) and, of course,the mos maiorum. Conquerors or governors sent abroad to administer Roman territories established personal ties as patron to whole communities which then might be perpetuated as a Roman family-type obligation.

Tradition and evolution
Suetonius quotes from an edict of the censors from 92 BC, ‘All new that is done contrary to the usage and the customs of our ancestors, seems not to be right.’ Yet because the mos maiorum was custom, not written law, it did evolve over time. Perhaps the ability to keep a strongly-centralised sense of identity while adapting to changing circumstances contributed to the expansion of Rome from a peninsula town to a world power.

The preservation of the mos maiorum depended on consensus and moderation among the ruling elite, but democratic politics, driven by populares (populist leaders) such as Gracchus who favoured the interests of the plebs (plebians), potentially undermined the conservative principle of the mos.

Gaius Gracchus, tribune of the people, addressing the Concilium Plebis (Plebeian Council) Silvestre David Mirys (1742-1810)

Reform was accomplished by legislation, and written law was introduced to replace what had been implied consensus. When plebeians gained access to nearly all the highest offices, the interests of plebeian families who joined the elite aligned with those of the patricians, creating Rome’s nobiles, an elite social status of nebulous definition during the Republic. The plebs and their support of popular politicians continued as a threat to the mos and elite consensus into the late Republic, as noted in the rhetoric of Cicero.

The mos maiorum could be evoked to validate social developments in the name of tradition. Following the collapse of the Roman Republic after the death of his adoptive father Julius Caesar, the ever astute Octavian disguised his radical program as piety toward the mos maiorum on his way to becoming the powerful individual, Augustus.


During the transition to the Christian Empire, Quintus Aurelius Symmachus argued that Rome’s continued prosperity and stability depended on preserving the mos maiorum.  The early Christian poet, Prudentius, dismissed this blind adherence to tradition as “the superstition of old grandpas” (superstitio veterum avorum) and inferior to the new truth of Christianity. Which brings us nicely to Roma Nova.

In a way, it’s an irony that the traditional senatorial families who left Rome in order to preserve their equally traditional religion and way of life had to abandon much of the mos maiorum fairly rapidly and adopt a radical solution in order to survive. Roma Novan basic tenets and laws were written in a new Twelve Tables of law which evolved over the centuries, yet cultural and guiding aspects of the mos maiorum remained. Service to the state, the family as basic social and economic unit, interdependency, ‘doing the right thing’ and a strong belief in the Roma Novan identity and values wouldn’t seem out of place to a late Republican Roman.