On the day he’s crowned as lucumo (king) of Veii, Vel Mastarna paints his face with vermilion dye to honor Tinia, the Etruscans’ principal god. His wife, Queen Caecilia, who was born of the Roman aristocracy, knows that she’s defied the Roman goddess Fortuna after choosing her husband and his city over her homeland – and she fears retribution. And Artile, Vel’s estranged brother, may be considered a traitor for aiding the Roman cause, but there’s no denying that his talents as priest and haruspex are uncannily perceptive.
The history and culture of these ancient peoples are presented in exquisite detail, from the finer aspects of religious belief to politics, art, and the mechanisms of warfare. They serve to anchor the narrative in its time without overwhelming readers. Although the settings may be foreign to modern readers, the characters exhibit traits and emotions recognizable to us all.
I’d previously reviewed the earlier volumes of the Tale of Ancient Rome series for this site. The first, The Wedding Shroud, saw Caecilia married off to Vel as a treaty-bride, and the second, The Golden Dice, depicts her plight in Veii after the truce between their lands, which sit a mere 12 miles apart across the Tiber, finally broke down. As Call to Juno opens, Caecilia, now a firm enemy of Rome, is watched with suspicion by the Veientanes, at least until she takes a public stance that startles her husband and puts him in a tough position.
As Vel leaves on campaign, Caecilia, her four children, and their servants stay behind in the citadel of Veii, which sits atop a high cliff. They and others endure plague and starvation during Rome’s siege of their city, which makes for uncomfortable reading at times.
The overall tale is revealed from four perspectives. On the Etruscan side, we have Caecilia and Semni, her children’s wet nurse, who’s in love with a Phoenician slave with a dangerous responsibility. On the Roman side, the protagonists are Pinna, a former tomb whore, now concubine of General Camillus; and Marcus, a Roman tribune and Caecilia’s estranged cousin, whose unspoken love for his best friend, Drusus, is a constant torment.
Although the author can’t change history, the plot refrains from obvious twists along the way, and the characters’ struggles are valiant as they try their utmost to control their fates.
Call to Juno was published by Amazon's Lake Union imprint in April. As I was writing up the review, I caught a social media mention that all three books in the series are $1.99 apiece as ebooks during August. This is my 3rd post for the 2016 Australian Women Writers Challenge.