Here’s the second part to an experiment that I am attempting – to give both a series review and reviews on the individual books. In my last post I discussed the many wonderful (and a sprinkling of not-exactly-wonderful) qualities of Tales of Ancient Rome Trilogy. Today, I bring everyone my thoughts for the individual books.
The Wedding Shroud
This is definitely the weakest book in the entire trilogy even though strictly speaking it is not a bad book par say. Like the entire trilogy, the usual hallmarks are there: plenty of solid research, good world building and interesting gateway to understanding more about the Veii.
However, this is the book where there is excessive of world building. This is due to the plot—when Caceilla marries Mastarna and becomes familiar with the Etruscan society instead of just blindly believing all the hasty judgments from her patrician relatives—and set the stage for the entire trilogy. I can understand why Storrs decides to do this since it will mean that she does not have to weave in the concepts more clumsily in subsequent books. Since Caceilla is a stubborn person who refuses to embrace the life that she is given at Veii as an Etruscan noblewoman, the world building and introduction the religious/society/custom differences takes up a great chunk of the book. As Caceilla is the only POV character in this book, the book has a very narrow worldview for the majority of the book.
Something that will make it really hard for the people to get through the first book (although I highly recommend that you should since the subsequent books are stronger and much easier/more entertaining to read) is due to Caceilla. As I have mentioned, she is a stubborn female to the very tip of her fingers. And this means total rejection of her Etruscan relatives, her husband, her surroundings and anything that may potentially make her life easier. She spends all her time sulking and comparing her current surroundings to Rome and finding Veii lacking. Either this or she is embracing various religious rites that she hopes will one day take her back to Rome. This unfortunately does not make the most exciting reading, and after several scenes where she repeats her beliefs over and over again I want to grab her by the shoulders and shake her. She is by the far the weakest link in this installment.
However, all the other supporting characters are interesting and are a good glimpse into the Veii society. I particularly enjoyed reading about Erene, a very exclusive courtesan that is trying to extend a helping hand and friendship to Caceilla with little success, and Tarchon, her not-really-but-legally-stepson who has his own demons to fight since he is not the typical Veii nobleman. They are also the characters that have more constant interactions with Caceilla, so it helps make the book bearable during some of the more frustrating moments.
I actually adored the last 30% of the book, when the plot actually starts moving at lightning speed and several political events take place in the span of several chapters (they are short chapters) that have huge ramifications for Caceilla and company. The demise of a certain character livens up the plot and I wish more foreshadowing is throughout the book, but it might also just be due to Caceilla’s lack of ability to pay attention to her surroundings due to her own suffering.
The ending is a great ending, and due to the last 30% of the book I am extremely excited to continue the series and I highly recommend anyone to persevere, since the rest of the trilogy has some great things in store.
The Golden Dice
This is the book where things really start happening, with the war between Rome and Veii going strong and the commitment to win to be even higher on the Roman side. There is also a (mostly) welcome addition of new narrators Pinna and Semni who provide a more comprehensive picture of what it must be like living in either ancient city.
I think the inclusion of Pinna is an excellent choice, since it is through her narrative that the reader gets the Roman perspective. She is a resourceful individual who starts off as a night moth (the lowest of the low) that eventually climbs her way to the Roman camp that is about to besiege Veii. Out of all three narrators, she is my favourite because she is unapologetic about her actions all in the name of survival. I do not always need to read about a righteous individual, but I do always enjoy reading about someone who is willing to owe up to their actions. She is also the most interesting character because she is someone that collects secrets, albeit not willingly. It is due to her talent and misfortune that she is able to squirrel so many bits of information that become both useful and dangerous.
Semni is also an interesting addition, but I do not find her as compelling as the other two narrators because I am unsure why we need a perspective from a lower-class woman in Veii, other than to illustrate that while the Etruscan society is more enlightened it is still not roses and champagne for every woman. There is a major plot point where it hinges on her perspective, but it does reduce her to an observer or a plot device as oppose to a character.
The plot itself is much more interesting as it is no longer about Caceilla’s love life (or her life exclusively); it is very much focus on the greater conflict between the two cities. The Roman hostility towards the Etruscan society is very real, particularly when Rome itself is famished and needs more land, wealth, and grain to feed its citizens. I think it is a very apt description to call Rome a very hungry wolf, waiting to pounce on something or someone. It is also due to this desperation that the Romans are willing to do whatever it takes, leading to some underhanded political actions and strategies that will hopefully help them win the war.
As for everyone in Veii, things are not great either. There is a revival of the ‘monarchy’ (let’s call it that because the ruler is called a king) and due to the king’s rule, there is discord and fights amongst the different clans in Veii. Again, this is widening up the scope of the book compared to ‘The Wedding Shroud’ and this time around there is actually a lot of family feuds and revenge, showing that when there are too many powerful individuals who are not in agreement, it can weaken a city that’s trying to defend itself.
This is an action-packed book where things are moving along very quickly, and I cannot wait the last book. It will be a thrilling if heartbreaking conclusion.
Call to Juno
This title has a very significant meaning which will only become apparent by the end of the book, but I also wanted to point out that this is the most intriguing and powerful title for me. While I am not someone who chooses to buy books based on covers, I am definitely drawn to titles.
By the last book events are becoming very intense. It is pretty much universally known (or at least unconsciously known) that only one can emerge victorious. There is just too much conflict on both sides and the greediness of Rome knows no bounds. And this makes a very epic conclusion and one of my favourite last books in a trilogy.
By now, Rome actually dominates the book quite a bit. The book is evenly split between the two cities as both cities are preparing themselves for one last battle. And our Roman antagonist is revealing himself as both a megalomaniac and a visionary genius that is fit to lead the charge. Our antagonist also promises that Rome will conquer Veii so that all the Roman plebian can take a share of the wealth that has been long denied. This book is also the book where it explores Roman society more thoroughly, where the lines between patrician and plebian are still firmly in place in principles and in law, but not necessarily in wealth or luxuries.
The plot itself is heartbreaking: betrayals, outbreak of disease, starvation, and a final battle as well as final plea to the deities that can save them. This is a very emotional ride and I am entirely attached to all the characters—from the Roman side as well as everyone from Veii. It is also in the hardships that I truly appreciate the bond that Mastarna and Caceilla have, as they always see each other as equals and will share the burden no matter what circumstances they find themselves and their family in. I am happy that the characters have such strong ties to help them get through all the hard times.
Another thing that I really enjoyed is how far Tarchon has come as a supporting character. His decisions and actions in this book demonstrate how much he matures as a person and how Storrs paints such great and emotional changes so succinctly. My only wish is that more of his willingness to shoulder on responsibility is shown as opposed to just told as I am rather attached to his character.
Despite the historical ending, I am very glad that Storrs manages to end the story with semblance of hope. Nothing is perfect and only after reading this trilogy do I realize with the loss of the Etruscan society that the world has lost something very beautiful and sacred. But I am glad to have had such wonderful glimpses at this lost society thanks to Storrs many talents.