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The Golden Dice (2013)
by Elisabeth Storrs
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Much better than vol.1 in the series, which I consider more of a historical romance. This novel has three heroines and alternates between their stories: Caecilia, wife of the Etruscan general, Vel Mastarna, and her life and family, several years on; Pinna, a Roman prostitute, who desires to raise herself from that lifestyle and wishes to follow a Roman general, Camillus; and a servant in Caecilia's household, demoted from her position as a potter and who seeks revenge on Caecilia, by way of her oldest son. In the midst of these stories Rome and the Etruscans are fighting a war; Caecilia, by marrying a Etruscan, is ostensibly the cause of war between the two city-states and although the marriage was none of Caecilia's doing--a political match, supposedly to bring peace, has led to war.
The Golden Dice is the second of the Tales of Rome trilogy by Elisabeth Storrs, which details the Etruscan people and their conflicts with Rome. This detailed historical novel centers on three women instead of just the aristocratic Caecilia alone. She's far more mature now and the mother of three sons. The other two woman are Pinna and Semni. Pinna is a former tomb whore who sees an opportunity to change her future when she discovers the secrets of Marcus Aemilius. Semni, formerly an artist and now down on her luck, works as a servant in Caecilia's household. The woman are believable and sympathetic and all three are in love with a warrior. All three women struggle with their roles and the pressures of their lives.
Vel Mastarna is away for a majority of the book but we do get to know Camillus, the Roman general tasked with conquering the Etruscans, as well as Caecilia's cousin Marcus who serves under him. I like the way the author alternates between the different perspectives and we see the war from both Roman and Etruscan views.
The characters are well developed, wonderfully written and full of life. The customs, religions and lifestyle of the Etruscan seems meticulously researched and the reader is easily transported into the strange and exotic world of Etruria. There is such a wonderful attention to detail that makes this an enthralling story.
I prefer to read books in order but this can easily be a stand-alone novel since any relationships in the prior book (Wedding Shroud) are explained adequately. I'll be excited to read the third of this series as soon as it's available.
The Golden Dice, the latest novel in Elisabeth Storrs' Tales of Ancient Rome series, takes readers back to the 4th century BC, to a time when ancient Etruria was the most powerful civilization on the Italian peninsula. Yet, at the same time, Rome continued to gain strength and started to challenge for supremacy.
Opening seven years after the events of the The Wedding Shroud (the first novel in the series) concluded, The Golden Dice features the return of several familiar characters. The most significant of whom is Caecilia, a Roman woman who, in the first novel, was forced to marry a powerful Etruscan Lord, Vel Mastarna, to secure a peace treaty between Rome and the Etruscan city of Veii. At the outset of The Golden Dice the reader learns that Caecilia and Vel are now happily settled into married life and have started a family. Their happiness, however, is marred by the bitter war now taking place between Veii and Rome, a war that sees Veii under siege year after year. While Caecilia knows that Veii must emerge victorious to ensure her family's survival, she doesn't want victory to come at the price of the destruction of Rome. Storrs does a masterful job of illustrating Caecilia's inner turmoil. While Caecilia is the central character of this novel, The Golden Dice also features two other remarkable women: Semni, a potter turned servant within Caecilia's household, and Pinna, a Roman tomb prostitute (known as a night moth) who seeks to better her situation in life. While the reader may not always agree with the actions and decisions taken by either Semni or Pinna, Storrs has developed both characters in such a way as to leave readers rooting for them.
A great cast of characters is only one of the many strengths of The Golden Dice. Storrs' prose is eloquent and her attention to detail leaves the reader with a very strong sense of time and place. The plot, which alternates between the stories of Caecilia, Semni and Pinna, is always engaging and never drags. In fact, I found this novel a difficult one to put down and I was sorry to see it end. The novel's setting, however, has to be my favourite aspect of the book. While much historical fiction has been written of ancient Rome, few novels within the genre have featured ancient Etruria so prominently. As a reader interested in exploring some of history's less well-known civilizations, I appreciate that Storrs has chosen to focus her novels in Etruria. As was the case in The Wedding Shroud, Storrs deftly showcases the often striking differences between Etruscan and Roman customs and beliefs, whether they pertain to religion, the treatment of women, or to politics. Even though Veii and Rome were only twelve miles apart in distance, they might as well have been on other sides of the world given how very different they were.
Storrs does a good job of incorporating the key events from The Wedding Shroud into The Golden Dice and, as a result, this latest novel can be read independently of the first. Nevertheless, I strongly recommend starting with the first book as I think it will enrich the reading experience of this one (my review of The Wedding Shroud can be found here).
The Golden Dice is an excellent novel, one that I highly recommended to all fans of historical fiction, especially those who enjoy reading novels set in the ancient world.
Note: I received a copy of this novel from the author in exchange for a fair and honest review.
A satisfying read, set in a little-explored time period. I always enjoy stories set in different times or places, where I learn about new societies while I'm enjoying the journey of a well-drawn character. Storrs' excellent research shows in her detailed setting and characters development.
During a bitter siege between Rome and the Etruscan city of Veii, three women follow different paths to survive. Caecilia, Roman born but Etruscan wed, forsakes Rome to return to her husband, Vel Mastarna, exposing herself to the enmity of his people while knowing the Romans will give her a traitor's death if Veii falls. Semni, a reckless Etruscan servant in the House of Mastarna, embroils herself in schemes that threaten Caecilia's son and Semni's own chance for love. Pinna, a destitute Roman prostitute, uses coercion to gain the attention of Rome's greatest general at the risk of betraying Caecilia's cousin. Each woman struggles to protect herself and those whom she loves in the dark cycle of war. What must they do to challenge Fate? And will they ever live in peace again? The Golden Dice is the sequel to The Wedding Shroud. The third book in the A Tale of Ancient Rome series is Call to Juno.
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Particularly interesting was the addition of two other narrators: Semni and Pinna. I love these books for their Ancient Rome feel, and reading about life at other social and economic levels was riveting.
This was a stay-up-too-late book. :) ( )