Britanniae is set in England during the last period of the Roman occupation. The heroine, Flavia Vindex, is a single woman of a scholarly bent who becomes head of a farm estate in East Anglia after the death of her father. Her mother is living in Constantinople and her elder brother Titus is serving with the army in the north as a political agent. News arrives from his commander on Hadrian’s Wall that Titus is missing, assumed killed. After the arrival of a coded message for Titus, Flavia becomes worried that her brother has been drawn into an intrigue and decides to head North to see whether she can discover what happened to him. She sets out with a freedman servant and an Irish-born slave but soon runs into trouble in Lincoln, from which she is rescued by Arctus, a high-born Roman who then accompanies Flavia for the rest of the journey.
The author clearly knows the period well. It gives an insight into life across a range of different classes of society, locations and both Roman and non-Roman characters. As an unmarried woman travelling with a non-relative, Flavia encounters disapproval among the Roman matrons. Certainly making the central character a woman creates more problems than writing about a man who can move more freely but it was interesting to see how Flavia tackled these.
I felt that at times the density of background information detracted from the story. The narrative is also rather episodic – as is real life – but it would have been nice to have more in the way of resolution at the end and to have learned more of the fate of the characters we have met, both good and bad.
The book is well presented with author’s notes, a map, lists of characters and places and notes, although the typeface is rather small.