Wednesday, August 17, 2005
canada.com network: "Romanitas is the first in a planned series of three novels set in an imagined present where the Roman Empire spans the world from the eastern border of India across the Atlantic.
Sophia McDougall describes a world where crucifixions have become mechanized and rows of crucifixes can be found on the outskirts of every major city; slavery is still the norm and the jockeying for the emperor's seat every bit as vicious and homicidal as it ever was.
In Romanitas, the emperor's brother Leo and sister-in-law have been killed in a car accident. Leo was assumed by all to be the heir to the throne, and his secretary believes that the crash was anything but accidental -- that it was carried out by people who feared the economic repercussions of Leo's stated intention, when he became emperor, to abolish slavery."
This alternative history title seems to be offering a combination of "I, Claudius" and "Spartacus" plopped into a modern setting with a little fantasy thrown in for good measure. The first-time 23-year-old author may be able to pull this off, although it sounds a bit like a piece written in response to an agent with a shotgun marketing approach to me. She certainly has a healthy outlook for her prospects, having already hired an agent for handling dramatic performance rights. I have my doubts, however, especially with the Canadian reviewer providing this disagreeable summary:
"McDougall presents an interesting, if unrelentingly bleak, view of what the world might have been like if the Roman Empire had never fallen. Rome's lack of original defining principles -- relative, say, to ancient Greece -- echo into the future, creating a spiritually and politically empty space."
The Canadian reviewer seems to have bought into the tripe many of us were taught in school back in the 50s - the Greeks provided the glorious foundation of Western Civilization while the Romans were merely imitators. From what I have learned since then from more knowledgable scholars, Romans politics were anything but empty and spiritually the Romans were far more concerned with offending their gods, extensively integrating religious rituals into their daily activities, than later cultures.