The Wedding Shroud: A Tale of Early Rome

Written by Elisabeth Storrs
Review by Elizabeth Jane

Born of a patrician mother and a wealthy plebeian father, Caecilia is no ordinary Roman citizen, but a product of two conflicting worlds. After losing both her parents, Caecilia finds a tenuous place in her uncle’s household. There she is strengthened by her cousin Marcus’s friendship and the first love of a young Roman soldier, Drusus. Yet she is never quite at home.

When Caecilia is wedded to an Etruscan nobleman, Vel Mastarna, a treaty is signed. Caecilia is to be a symbol, her marriage a link between Vel and the fledgling Republic of Rome. Though Caecilia’s place in her uncle’s household seemed fragile, it is nothing compared to the uncertainty she faces in her new Etruscan home – a place where gods, customs, loves and loyalties are strange and conflicting. Who can she trust? How does she love? Where does she really belong?

In The Wedding Shroud, Elizabeth Storrs gives us a complex heroine, grappling with issues of spirituality and culture in ways that are non-cliché and refreshing; a hero who is battle-scarred and unattractive yet somehow compelling; and a glimpse of two ancient cultures with their delicate balance of gender, religion and morality. If at times this reader struggled to empathise with the heroine’s loyalty to Rome or to fully comprehend the influence of her belief system, it is not so much a fault of the novel but a mark of its ambitious scope – the difficulty of portraying deeply held religious belief in a post-modern world. Yet, Storrs somehow manages to pull it off.

From the moment I stepped under the orange veil to the last roll of the dice, I found myself wanting more of her world, to walk with her characters and to immerse myself in their lives, if only for a time.