Over a year ago, I read Elisabeth Storrs’ first book in the Tales of Ancient Rome series: The Wedding Shroud, reviewed here. It’s a marvelous novel of a young Roman woman sent to Etruria as a bride to seal a truce. She didn’t want to leave Rome. She feared the man she was to marry and the strange customs of the Etruscans. Then, to her horror, she ended up being used as an excuse for war. I’ve been eagerly awaiting the continuation of the story and book two is now available on kindle: The Golden Dice.
The Golden Dice can be read as a stand-alone novel, but to fully appreciate the richness of the backstory, I recommend reading The Wedding Shroud first. There is a bit of a spoiler here in continuing with Caecilia’s story, so beware of my summary if you’re intending to read the books in order.
The Golden Dice begins seven years after The Wedding Shroud. Caecilia has returned with her Etruscan husband, General Vel Mastarna, to the city of Veii. Their marriage is a fruitful and happy one, but all is not well. War has erupted between Rome and Veii and both sides blame her. Throughout the spring and summer, Veii is besieged. Only the coming of winter provides a temporary reprieve, at least in the beginning, until the Romans under General Furius Camillus change their tactics to campaign year round.
Many of the same tensions and hatreds simmer in this novel as in its prequel. Caecilia is mistrusted by the Veii and called a traitor by the citizens of Rome. Even her own family, those she once loved, have now sworn vengeance against her. Factions within Veii threaten her family’s safety and Vel Mastarna’s political influence at a time when Veii needs his strong guidance most of all.
Two additional female characters are introduced to illustrate the Roman and Etruscan sides. Semni is a craftswoman, a potter, in Veii. A series of poor choices have left her cast off, alone with a baby, but with a friend in Caecilia’s household. Caecilia takes her in as a servant. On the Roman side there is Pinna, daughter of a farmer/soldier who lost everything serving Rome. Pinna became a prostitute at age eleven. Skilled at learning and manipulating men’s secrets, Pinna manages to gain a position as concubine to Caecilia’s cousin, Marcus, who is now serving under General Camillus. These two women provide insight into the sufferings of the "common" people, and by showing strong women from each side of the conflict, Storrs is able to ratchet up the tension and give a more balanced view of the characters. It’s hard to see Caecilia’s enemy as a monster when seen through Pinna’s admiring eyes.
Etruria in 400 B.C. is a fascinating world and one that is under-explored in historical fiction. Elisabeth Storrs presents a complex, believable, intricately woven story of a woman trying to protect her loved ones from internal and external threats, while trapped in a city at war.