Savage City by Sophia McDougall

Savage CityA review by Rebecca Muir

Savage City is the final instalment in the Romanitas trilogy. The series is set in an alternate history, which diverges from ours in 192 AD. The Roman Empire never fell, and has continued to the present day, now ruling half the world. Most of the remaining half is ruled by the Nionian (Japanese) Empire.

The series has followed Marcus and his cousin Drusus, nephews of the Emperor of Rome. Both want to be Emperor some day, for different reasons. The other main characters are the Emperor’s daughter Makaria, Marcus’ friend and advisor Varius whose past experiences have left him scarred and cynical. The siblings Una and Sulien, former slaves with strange abilities, who were given their freedom by Marcus for their help in saving him from a plot against him. There is also Delir and his family – he was a wealthy Persian who became an outlaw in an attempt to help those who have escaped from slavery. These characters, and more besides, make a reappearance in this book.

In this book, the Empire is turned upside down by a terrorist plot which results in war being declared between Rome and Nionia. Everything Marcus worked and sacrificed for seems to be lost. Those loyal to him must put their lives on the line to stop the war before it is too late to salvage anything of the Empire. Working against them is Drusus, spurred on by a cryptic prophesy given to him by the Oracle of Delphi.

In the opening chapters of this book, I was quite disillusioned at the way certain story lines were being played out, and I was ready to put the book down. I had found the first two books hard going – although they were interesting, the pace, intensity and style combined to make me feel like I had to work at reading them – normally I get so caught up in a book that the hard work is putting it down and not reading “just a few more pages”. A few chapters into this book, I was not sure I could continue making the effort. However, I am glad I persevered. For the remainder of the book, I found myself enjoying the experience a lot more. I’m not quite sure what changed; I think it was a combination of a few factors, one of the main ones being the way the characters are further developed throughout this book. I liked where the characters were taken better than where they were earlier on in the series.

Some people may find some of the plot twists disappointing, but by the end of the book I thought most things were resolved fairly well. This is not a book (or a series) to read if you like everything neat and warm-fuzzy-ish, but it does have its share of romance, of good triumphing over bad and of heroes who really are heroic. I must confess to liking a good warm-fuzzy, but I did enjoy this book for the most part.

If you haven’t read the first two books, it would be best to find them and read them before you try Savage City. If you like political thrillers, war stories or historical novels (although not a true historical novel those who are familiar with the Roman Empire may find the series a fascinating extrapolation) you may be interested in this book.

Previously published in Dark Matter issue 5, September 2011.  This blog has been pre-dated to reflect the date of original publication.