Monday, January 2, 2012

ESCAPE TO THE PAST WITH: The Wedding Shroud by Elisabeth Storrs

Historical novels set in ancient Rome hold a great deal of appeal for me. I love the whole spectrum of books from those as intensely detailed and instructive as Colleen McCullough’s Masters of Rome series to those as light-hearted and entertaining as Lindsey Davis’s Falco detective series. So when I saw the blurb for Elisabeth Storrs’s The Wedding Shroud, I was intrigued. I saw it blurbed and reviewed on a couple historical fiction blogs and decided I wanted to read it. The only problem was getting hold of the book. It’s not available in the US. I tried ordering it from The Book Depository but it was back ordered and eventually I got a message saying it would not become available. You can buy it for your kindle, but I don’t have a kindle and it wasn’t offered for the Nook. (There is probably a way to get an ebook version to read on the Nook, but I couldn’t figure it out.) I could have ordered it used from a few booksellers, but it would have run me about $50.00, which seemed a bit steep for a book that was $9.99 on kindle. (Currently $6.59.)

But, I got an iPad for Christmas! The first thing I did was download The Wedding Shroud from the ibook store to read over the holidays. And it’s one of the things I like best about my gift. I finally got to read this book.

Set in 406 B.C., Rome is not yet the sprawling empire it will later become. Surrounded by peoples who are alternately allies and enemies, depending on necessities and conveniences of the day, Rome is always at war. One of its neighbors was Etruria (the Etruscans.) Located just twelve miles from Rome, the dominant city of Eturia, Veii, was a powerful rival with a different culture, different gods, and different prejudices. In The Wedding Shroud, Storrs imagines a marriage between a Roman girl, Caecilia, and an Etruscan nobleman, Vel Mastarna.

Caecilia has been brought up with strict Roman ideals and so, even though she has never been anything but a pawn to Roman men, she feels loyalty to her homeland. She must live as a Roman matron would. She firmly believes that Etruscan ways are dishonorable. Caecilia is young and naive; she has a difficult time understanding her husband who is twice her age and uncommunicative, if kind. She has left behind a childhood crush, but Mastarna has been married before. The more she learns about her husband’s past, the more confused she becomes. Although she slowly falls in love with him, she doubts his feelings for her.

If Caecilia is unable to accept Etruscan customs wholeheartedly, the people of Etruria are also divided in their acceptance of her. As internal rivalries heat up, Caecilia is caught in the middle. The tenuous peace treaty unravels, and the fate Caecilia has always feared, of becoming a hostage to be used against her beloved Rome, becomes increasingly likely. Her very life is in danger. Mastarna has sworn he will protect her, but will he? Can he?


This is marvelous historical fiction. The details are richly imagined. There were times when I became irritated by Caecilia’s choices, knowing she was digging herself into deeper trouble, but realistically, I could understand why she did what she did. Mastarna was a complex but solid hero. The supporting cast were well-rounded and interesting. I was immersed.

I’m so glad I was able to get my hands on this book. It was the perfect way to wrap up my reading for 2011 – a beautifully done book in my favorite genre.