Tuesday, April 19, 2016

BOOK REVIEW: Call to Juno by Elisabeth Storrs


I received this book free from the publisher in exchange for an honest review.

I love historical fiction about Ancient Rome, but until I discovered Elisabeth Storrs’ fascinating series (A Tale of Ancient Rome), I knew next to nothing about Rome’s near neighbor, Etruria. I had no idea how great their empire once was, the "capital" of which–the city of Veii–lay just twelve miles away across the Tiber. The Etruscans had a vibrant culture that differed greatly from that of Rome. In many ways, it was the more advanced. Intermittent warfare broke out between them, separated by periods of truce and trading. In Storrs’ first novel, set in ~400 B.C., The Wedding Shroud, a truce is sealed with a wedding between a young Roman woman, Caecelia and an Etruscan lord and general, Vel Mastarna. I highly recommend starting there. These books are addicting, and now readers new to the series can follow Caecelia and Vel’s story straight through.

In Call to Juno, the third novel, Veii is under siege by Rome. Mastarna is the reluctant ruler of the city, charged with trying to unite the various Etruscan factions to drive away the enemy. In addition to saving his city, he must save his beloved wife. It’s almost certain that one of the conditions of any truce would be to surrender Caecelia back to Rome where she will be tried as a traitor and executed. So a truce is not an option for Vel or for Caecelia. Mild spoilers to follow though I’m trying not to give too much away from the first two books.

Caecelia’s cousin, Marcus, once her most cherished friend, is determined to recapture her and purge the family name of dishonor. He has risen through the ranks of the Roman army and is now serving under the general besieging Veii.

Pinna, a young Roman prostitute, has also risen in the world, having become the concubine of the Roman general. Pinna is a sympathetic character because her chances have been so slim yet she’s made the most of them. Always manipulative in the cause of self-preservation, Pinna is learning to use her new influence and, in the process, learning about the general. And about herself.

Caecelia, now the mother of four, has denounced her homeland, believing that Veii should not only fight to free itself from the siege, but should take the war back to Rome.

As in the previous novels, the exotic setting enhances the story of love, war, vengeance and mixed loyalties. The juxtaposition of Etrurian beliefs with those of Rome makes for fascinating historical context. The well-rounded characters and their emotional depth allow each side of the conflict to be fairly represented, though no doubt readers will favor one side. In the best historical fiction, clashes of civilization are humanized to show the true extent of the tragedy. Call to Juno, The Golden Dice, and The Wedding Shroud are in that category of the best.

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