Rivals of the Republic: The Blood of Rome, Book 1

Written by Annelise Freisenbruch
Review by J. Lynn Else

Hortensia is the daughter of a renowned orator and lawyer. She has been taught by her father in his art and utilizes this skill to help defend a woman whose lying husband is slandering her name in an attempt to claim her dowry. After winning the case in dramatic fashion, Hortensia is called upon by the chief vestal to help clear the name of a young priestess who was recently found dead. The chief vestal does not believe the priestess took her life in shame after an impious love affair, and evidence suggests the temple’s sanctuary was illegally accessed –however, nothing is missing. A servant named Lucrio aids in Hortensia’s investigation, but he has his own agenda.  He seeks revenge for the death of his family years earlier at the hands of a Roman soldier.  As Hortensia and Lucrio begin to piece together the clues behind the vestal’s death, they quickly discover that the Republic itself may be in danger if the perpetrators are not identified in time.

This is a debut novel from Freisenbruch, originally self-published in 2014 as Blood in the Tiber. The historical atmosphere is engrossing. Additionally, fantastic fictional characters stand alongside historical people (namely Crassus, Cicero, Julius Caesar, and Pompey).  I relished the rich details in this story, like the creation of wills and the equipment of scribes.

Hortensia moves plausibly within the constraints of her time. Her mindset is slightly progressive but also historically accurate, and her strong voice immediately pulled me into the story. While the book is about solving a mystery, it’s also about Hortensia rising to new challenges and making a path for herself. This book transports readers to the streets of ancient Rome. It is an extremely satisfying blend of fact and fiction with plenty of surprises. Highly recommended.