Sophia McDougall, Gollancz, 2011, £12.99, pb, 424pp, 9780575094888
In this alternative history, Rome has never fallen, and is still a major player on the world stage in the 21st century. But there is trouble both internally and externally. The Nionian Empire (=Japan) is slowly advancing, and may be about to win the arms race. In Rome, the Colosseum has just been bombed by a terrorist, killing the current emperor outright, and gravely wounding his heir. The future of the Roman Empire ultimately rests with a brother and sister from Britannia, but can they and their supporters survive in a hostile Empire?
This is the third volume in the Romanitas triology, and I haven't read the other two volumes. For the most part, this was not a barrier to enjoying the story. This is a well imagined, bedded in, alternative world, and felt very plausible throughout. There are changes in the technology, but it was easy to work out what they approximate to in our world. In addition, there are maps showing the Romanitas world, plus very useful chronologies detailing the alternative time line.
The book is epic in scale, with the interior life of the many characters very well realised. It is a triumphant conclusion to the series. McDougall is one to watch.
(This review appeared in Historical Novels Review, November 2011, pages 56-57)