Julia Prima (Roma Nova Thriller Series)
This is a stunning historical novel set in the 4th century. Julia, the daughter of the ruler of the provincial town of Virunum, worships the Roman gods at a time when Christianity has become the official religion of the Empire. She considers herself divorced, under Roman law, from her Christian husband, the bishop’s nephew, but since the Christians of the time considered marriage indissoluble, she is not entirely divorced. When Julia falls in love with Lucius Apulius, a Roman soldier who believes in the old gods, her father banishes him to Rome. Julia, accompanied by two servants, the painter and ex-soldier Aegius and her body servant Asella, goes on a dangerous journey from Virunum (in present-day Austria) to Rome to be reunited with the man she loves, while an enemy from her past pursues her along the way.
This is the prequel to Alison Morton’s Roma Nova series of alternative history thrillers, in which a remnant of the Roman Empire survives to the present day, but it is set centuries before the other books, so it can be read on its own. It takes place before the alternative timeline diverged from the real timeline, so it is a regular historical novel. Julia seems like a spoiled princess at first, but she develops into a strong, admirable heroine, fighting her enemies with a sword as well as any man. Her two servants, Aegius and Asella, have fascinating backgrounds, and there is more to them than meets the eye. Morton’s descriptions of the countryside on Julia’s journey are magnificent, and you feel as if you are traveling along with her. The later Roman Empire is a rather unusual setting. Many more novels are set during the early Empire. I enjoyed reading about this fascinating time, and I highly recommend the book.