My version: ARC
Genre: Historical Fiction, Roman Britannia
Publisher: Steven A. McKay
First published: 2020
Sent for review by author
From the cover:
“What makes life worth living for a slave of Rome?
The promise of vengeance, no matter how long it takes.
At eight years old, Lucia is torn from the life she knew. Her village burned to the ground and parents murdered by Romans, she is kidnapped, sold and shipped abroad to the Villa Tempestatis in Britannia to serve the young Roman army officer Castus.
Faced with a bleak future of decades of servitude to her master, as well as sadistic brutality at the hands of his manageress, Paltucca, she finds herself fixated by one thought alone: vengeance.
Yet Villa Tempestatis, with its picturesque surroundings in Britannia’s green countryside offers a life that’s a little easier than elsewhere in the northern empire. The slaves form strong bonds of love and friendship, enjoy feasts and holiday celebrations together and are even allowed, sometimes, to start a family. Many of them are happy enough with their lot.
Despite that, every moment of Lucia’s life is blighted by her hatred for Castus and Paltucca, and only seeing them both destroyed will bring her a measure of peace, even if it takes decades of work and planning…“
You have to go into reading books like this, knowing how it is going to end, don’t you?
Steven A. McKay isn’t going to set up the scenario – as detailed on the back of the book – and then have Lucia killed off by a piece falling from an old aqueduct half way through, is he?
It is partly why I often try to avoid reading the blurb on the back of the book, so I don’t really know what is going to happen. Still, I liken books like Lucia, to other utterly magisterial books like, forgive my indulgence here, the incomparable The Day Of The Jackal. Where, you know what the outcome is before you read a word – that De Gaulle doesn’t get assassinated – yet the book has you spellbound and guessing – even hoping, let’s face it – all the way through. It’s the same here. Knowing that Lucia will get her revenge on those who have harmed her, changed her life, ripped her past out from under her feet, goes without saying. What Steven A. McKay’s job as a writer here is to do, is keep us guessing as to the how and when. Which, I can assure you he does absolutely magnificently.
The reasons for her desire for vengeance, are obvious – ripped from the life, the childhood, she knew, and sold into an unremittingly harsh life as a slave. There’s never been a good time to be a slave, obviously, thought if Lucia is anything to go by, Roman life as a slave is up there (or is it down there?) in the top three of times you really didn’t want to have been a slave. She grows into her life as a slave in Britannia, but is never conditioned to it. She remains the spark of independence, keeps the flame of vengeance burning within her, no matter how much and how many times she is beaten down. You know she will always get up again. Always find a way for her young, then not so young, mind to keep her focussed. Obviously she has to do, has to experience some things she, and we, would really rather not, but a tale of slave life in Britannia under Roman rule would not be so believable and compelling as Lucia, if Steven dodged those issues.
Steven slips so effortlessly back in time to the Roman-world. Pre Robing Hood (!), pre-Warrior Druid of Britain times, that there really is no need for lengthy scene-setting. Steven’s down to earth, just right, passionate prose, has us back there in an effortless instant. This is a Britain, pre-Warrior Druid of Britain, and the Roman Empire’s grip on power in Britannia, as with the rest of the Empire, is iron-strong and unshakeable. Slaves are captured wherever the Roman army destroys a barbarian village, are sold then sent out to their new lives – not that many would call it a life – and Steven brings it to vivid life with elegant ease.
With the triumph that Lucia turns into, the good Mr McKay is clearly proving he is so overflowing with good ideas and writing spirit, that he can thrown out Lucia as a one-off, away from the Robin Hood series that made his name, or the awesome success that is the Warrior Druid of Britain series. I am, as you may know, very much a fan of one-off novels, Historical Fiction one-off novels in particular, so that Steven, and the superb Matthew Harffy have chosen to put out one-offs, with seemingly no intent to make them into series, is, for me, extremely refreshing and to be applauded.
I think there are probably going to be a lot of people reading this vibrant, incident-packed book, wishing it wasn’t a one-off. Whilst I pretty much hope it is, so as not to dull its impression on me, I am convinced that anyone wanting to dip their eyes into Steven’s work, without the feeling of having to wade through a whole series to get there, will be converted to the cause and energised to get stuck in. The other plus is, that maybe seeing the way Lucia has worked, both Steven and other writers in the HF field (though it’s probably more the publishing fraternity that need to take heed), and take the risk of writing more one-off Historical Fiction books. Not everything needs to be the start of a thrilling/vibrant/ exciting/powerful new trilogy, quintology, fivetology (That’s enough -ologies, Ed) to deliver the HF goods with such satisfaction as Lucia.