Tough, articulate and determined; human, bewildered and sometimes anxious; Carina Mitelia is a present day hero in an alternative setting. Creating a slightly different world is one thing, staying very firmly this side of fantasy is another achievement. As Karen Brown becomes Carina Mitela, she slips from being advertising executive and volunteer park ranger into a fighter who must survive in her new role, new identity and new country. Full of physical action and subtle cultural hints, this is a novel which creates a new world order in which women rule and have to fix situations, while watching their backs for political tricks. A fascinating tale of the Roman way of life recreated for the twenty first century, this is an adventurously plotted novel in which there are mobile phones and sophisticated surveillance methods, yet the language is Latin. Self confessed “Roman nut” Alison Morton has created this novel as part of a series which pushes the boundaries of expectation, but which essentially revolves around a battle for survival. I soon became immersed in the world of Roma Nova, and I was grateful to be sent a copy of this novel to read and review, the first in the series.
Karen Brown leads a life in New York which is filled partly by her volunteer role as a patrol officer in Kew Park. When she defends an elderly man, an Indigenous, from some teenagers by some clever manoeuvres, she finds herself in trouble. As she briefly mentions in her narrative an alternative history of the United States in which the War of Independence did not happen and the British only left in 1867, the reader begins to appreciate that the subtle differences in the world order means that the orphaned young woman has a link with Roma Nova. This is a state which is made up of the ruling party of the original Roman Empire, which has survived over many centuries to retain their power via women, who are the hereditary rulers of the successful and now peaceful country. Karen is contacted by Conrad who explains that she has family links in the country, and so begins a tense period where the diplomatic and legal possibilities run alongside brutal attempts on her life. As she battles to survive, she discovers that choices are forced upon her which will mean that she accepts a whole new identity, but that she must still be on guard, and indeed take the offensive if she is to fulfil her new role.
This book for me represents the best sort of fantasy, near enough to real life to be understandable, but offering a new element of a world view to expand and allow new adventures. There is a fair amount of physical violence, and there are times when I wondered if Karen/Carina has nine lives, as she is forced to do battle to survive so many times. This is a firmly female led thriller, and though Karen is more of a victim having to be rescued to begin with, as the book proceeds she becomes her true self as she takes control. A fighter in all senses, the Carina Mitela novels and indeed their predecessors, The Aurelia Mitela adventures, feature strong women in familiar yet challenging circumstances, and I would love to read more of them.
This book features the main protagonist learning Latin as a contemporary language, which reminds me of my couple of attempts to at least learn enough to translate the words of choral pieces and similar texts. Maybe when I have written a paper for a conference and submitted a dissertation and such like, I could think of having another go!