EXSILIUM: The Birth of Roma Nova

Latest of a gripping series set in an alternate universe

For me, Antoine Vanner, one of the unexpected pleasures of becoming an author was encountering other writers and, though writing in different genres, forging bonds. Some twelve years ago I was welcomed by a group of about a dozen authors who met every month in a public house, “The Zetland Arms”, in South Kensington, London, for Saturday lunches. We discussed anything and everything to do with writing and publishing and they were wonderfully enjoyable occasions. We learned a lot from each other. Among the regulars was Alison Morton who, like me, had just published for the first time and she and I have been level pegging ever since, producing on average a book per year. My series is entitled The Dawlish Chronicles, naval and espionage adventures set in the later Victorian Era.

Alison at Claudium Virunum, a Roman city in the province of Noricum, today’s Austria. Here is where the new city of Roma Nova was established in Alison’s alternate universe

Alison’s brilliant Roma Nova series could not be more different to mine. It’s set in a convincing “alternate universe” and takes as its point of departure from actual history the idea that a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into modern times.  In novel after novel – ten so far, Alison sets her hard-boiled thriller plots in a convincing and internally consistent universe. Whether set in the twentieth and twenty-first centuries or, in the case of her new novel, EXSILIUM, set in the late fourth century, the action is credible since the Roma Nova universe has the same social structures and technologies of the same periods as in the actual world we live in. The characters have the values of their eras – especially important in the books set in the fourth century, such that they are real people of their time and not just twenty-first century people in re-enactors’ costumes. Were we, or our distant forebears, to be translated into that Roma Nova universe, we would function much as we do in our own – which often means “Not Well – but we’ll win through somehow!”

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What I find especially interesting in this latest novel, EXSILIUM, is the picture it presents of a society that has much in common with the West today. It’s unsure of what it stands for anymore, has no widely supported vision of where it’s going and lacks the will to face, or even recognise, existential challenges. The unitary Roman Empire is by now split into the Western and Eastern Empires. In itself, this is an intelligent response to the challenges of administration over a vast area – but the success of the twin empires is dependent on cooperation, the more so since the barbarian tribes are pressing on the northern and north-eastern borders. Instead of cooperation however, there are constant plots, coups and civil wars between aspirants to the purple and, at times. open conflict between the Western and Eastern Empires.

The structure of governance in the Western Empire persists – the emperor, the imperial civil service, the armies (now dependent on recruits from barbarian tribes) and the senate – but all are hollow. The challenge of respectful coexistence of Christianity, the new state religion, with the remnants of traditional Pagan belief is being mishandled as the previously persecuted increasingly become persecutors in their turn. The writing is on the wall – this Western Empire is a doomed enterprise and nobody sees it, much less admit it. The Goths will be sacking Rome some two decades after the setting of EXSILIUM and within a century the Western Roman Empire will have disappeared, replaced by separate kingdoms established by barbarian tribes. The Dark Ages will soon be engulfing most of Europe and though the Eastern Empire will survive as a powerful entity for two centuries more, it too will then start its slow and irreversible decline towards belated extinction in 1453.

Alison conveys very convincingly how people of education, wealth and dwindling power are forced to recognise that the society that they know and love no longer has a place for them. Decisions, extremely hard decisions, must be taken – whether to remain and somehow survive a future that looks ominous for them, if not deadly, or to cut their losses and strike out for a new beginning whose success cannot be guaranteed. With a reluctance with which we can identify, the individual characters in EXSILIUM come to accept that, in reality, “There is no alternative.”

And accepting that alternative is the foundation of the seventeen-century epic of Roma Nova that Alison chronicles.

Highly recommended – Antoine Vanner

Click on any of the images below for details of all Alison’s books

Alison’s Bio

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her ten-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but use a sharp line in dialogue. The latest, EXSILIUM, plunges us back to the late 4th century, to the very foundation of Roma Nova.

She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.

Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit.

Social media links

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