Talking about the Book – Exsilium by Alison Morton


by Alison Morton

Exile – Living death to a Roman

AD 395. In a Christian Roman Empire, the penalty for holding true to the traditional gods is execution.

Maelia Mitela, her dead husband condemned as a pagan traitor, leaving her on the brink of ruin, grieves for her son lost to the Christians and is fearful of committing to another man.

Lucius Apulius, ex-tribune, faithful to the old gods and fixed on his memories of his wife Julia’s homeland of Noricum, will risk everything to protect his children’s future.

Galla Apulia, loyal to her father and only too aware of not being the desired son, is desperate to escape Rome after the humiliation of betrayal by her feckless husband.

For all of them, the only way to survive is exile.

The scene that made you smile, cheer or laugh out loud

Exsilium includes some great banter including lines like this one that made me laugh.

“If he goes on about the olive harvest again, I’ll stuff a potful down his throat.”

I also love the tension between two of the main characters, the widowed Maelia and her friend/advisor Marcellus, which left me guessing whether there might be a happily-ever-after for the two of them.

“Now you sound like a land agent, Marcellus.”

“You cheeky piece!”

“I didn’t mean to insult you.”

“Yes, you did.” He grinned. “But a good thrust, all the same.”

As we watched Varus leave, Publius took my arm. “Why do you dislike him, Mama? He’s trying to help us and I think he rather likes you.”

“I don’t dislike him, but he tries to order me around and impose his views on me.”

“But you argue with him as soon as he enters the house. I don’t understand.”

Neither did I.

The place where you wanted to throw the book across the room

“…the magister militrum has instructed me to purge any known pagan officers from my region.”

“One former friend had turned her back on me and slowly stepped out of the water saying it was polluted.”

There are numerous Christian vs. pagan actions that are true to the time and Ms. Morton handled them brilliantly, but intolerance – then as well as now – makes me ill.

And other scenes that portray the political jockeying cut too close to home…

“The court is a complete mess. Maximus’ people have fled or are desperately trying to prove they were only following him because they were forced to, Valentinian’s followers are pretending they weren’t cowards who fled and are jockeying for position in the new regime, and Theodosius’s people are strutting around like the smug winners they are. No legal work is getting done and the whole bureaucracy has ground to a halt.”

My verdict 4.5 stars

Who hasn’t heard about the fall of the Roman Empire? I learned a bit about it in World History classes back in high school but knew very few specifics, and even less about every day life of those living in the 4th century.

Ms. Morton brings the era to life – the characters’ joys and sorrows, politics and wars, religion, the hazards of a slowly cracking society, and the traveling hundreds of miles to establish a new country.

EXSILIUM is a ‘foundation story’ for Morton’s Roma Nova series. It follows the lives of several families in Rome, who, rather than risk persecution and death over their traditional religious beliefs, choose to self-exile. I like the writer’s use of three point of view characters – 2 women and 1 man – seeing their world fall apart, and experiencing how changes impact them and their families.

The novel is well-told, has good pacing, and believable characters. I appreciate the map showing the exiles’ journey, the glossary, and a list of place names with their modern equivalents.

I admit to being confused by all the characters – emperors, soldiers, senators, and more. But it was the little details of places in Rome, customs, and the journey north for the exiles that made Exsilium enjoyable for me. I have been to Italy and loved it, and now know just a bit more of its history thanks to the author. When an author can take you back in time through her words and give you a sense of what life was like: incredible. Kudos, Ms. Morton!


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One response to “Talking about the Book – Exsilium by Alison Morton”

  1. Alison Morton Avatar

    Thank you, Charlene for this very thoughtful review. I’m so pleased you enjoyed EXSILIUM and the interactions and banter between the characters. I loved writing them!

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