This is The Roman Empire. Now.
|Genre||Alternate history novel|
|Media type||Print (Hardback & Paperback)|
|Pages||448 pp (first edition, hardback)|
|ISBN||ISBN 0-7528-6078-X (first edition, hardback)|
|Followed by||Rome Burning|
Romanitas is an alternate history novel by Sophia McDougall, published by Orion Books. It is the first of a trilogy of novels based on a world where the Roman Empire has survived to contemporary times and now dominates much of the world.
After attending his parents' funeral, Marcus Novius Faustus Leo, the teenage nephew of the emperor (and heir apparent since the death of his father), is informed by his father's secretary Varius that his father Leo and his mother were murdered by a conspiracy concerned about Leo's ambition to abolish slavery. While this is happening, Varius' wife eats sweets given to Marcus by his cousin Makaria and dies of poisoning. Varius promptly arranges for Marcus to flee to a hidden refuge in Spain, run by Delir, an anti-slavery activist and secret ally of Leo. Meanwhile, a British slave named Una, who has the ability to read minds, rescues her brother Sulien who has been falsely accused of rape and sentenced to crucifixion.
The three runaways meet in Gaul. Despite initial suspicion, they agree to help each other and travel to the refuge. However, Varius has been arrested and the conspirators force him to reveal the location of the refuge, as well as making him confess to the murder of Marcus's parents, as well as the murder of Marcus himself.
Upon discovering that Varius has confessed to murdering him and his parents, Marcus decides to go to Rome to reveal he is in fact still alive, planning to reveal the conspiracy in public so the conspirators will be unable to kill him. He runs away from the refuge and travels to Rome, evading the soldiers sent to capture him. Una and Sulien follow him, but are unable to find him in time to prevent him revealing himself. Marcus reveals himself but is captured and taken to a hospital. There he is injected with a hallucinogen by one of the conspirators so that when Emperor Faustus is taken to him, Marcus appears to be mad. As many of the Imperial family have succumbed to a hereditary madness in the past (including, apparently, Marcus' other uncle, Lucius), Faustus agrees to keep Marcus in seclusion.
The runaway slaves make it to Rome, and manage to rescue Marcus from the asylum where he is being held. Thereafter, Marcus succeeds in revealing the truth about Varius' innocence to the emperor, as well as the plot to kill him. Makaria manages to exculpate herself from any involvement in the conspiracy, pouring suspicion onto the emperor's current wife, Tulliola.
Romanitas presents itself, above all, as a dystopian novel mainly by virtue of the stark differences between the world that we live in and the alternate route of history that the book is set in. McDougall's vision of the modern Roman Empire has it spanning roughly two thirds of the world's land mass. Politically speaking, absolute power still belongs to the emperor alone, with the resulting singularity of vision causing both tranquility and chaos on a massive scale. The fact that slavery is the foundation upon which the empire's economy is built, and with so many people having a vested interest in it, means that there are those who would murder without hesitation and place the blame on innocent people in order to maintain the status quo.