I think every reader shares a fascination with alternate worlds. Thus the appeal of not only science fiction and fantasy but also historical fiction. In Caerwin and the Roman Dog, I explore the past as it existed at the height of the Roman Empire and the end of Celtic control over Britannia.
In my work over the last year in putting this novel together, I reached the obvious conclusion that research is the key to authoring a good book. It doesn’t matter if the story centers in the past or the future, or even in the present day. Building a believable setting where the characters will interact means making sure that the ‘world-building’ is effective. What did they eat? What was the weather? What were their daily routines?
In my novel, the setting is the Shropshire area of England, a place near the River Severn that borders Wales. Elusive mists shroud ancient hillforts where Rome’s legions pursue their conquest of the native tribes. Despite greater numbers, native warriors wield weapons and armor far inferior to Roman arms. (Details of Roman armor can be seen on my “Romans” Pinterest page.) The biggest difference, however, rests in Rome’s military organization—the army functions like a well-oiled machine.
It’s fascinating to study the chain of command that Rome perfected and which is used by today’s writers even in the most far-flung fictional world of the future. Obedience to the command hierarchy and to the operational rules of a legion creates a strict dynamic for any character caught up in that reality. In my story, that character is Marcellus. As the book opens with Legio XIV’s assault against the Cornovii tribe, the tribe’s defenses have been breached and action quickly devolves to a mop-up operation. Marcellus rounds the hillfort perimeter and spots a young woman, Caerwin, trying to make her escape. Instantly enchanted, he brings her back to camp and embarks on seduction.
And yes, in the midst of its historical action and setting, this novel is a sexy romance with a big dollop of BDSM.
At any time of man’s history or future, the introduction of an attractive woman into a man’s camp is certain to cause trouble. But Marcellus’ infatuation with a blue-eyed Cornovii princess takes second place when his superior officer succumbs to his battle wounds. His death propels Marcellus to sudden promotion as the legion’s commander. He’s not of the regular army serving a twenty-plus year term, but rather a young professional of privileged rank meant to gain a taste of military life before returning to serve Rome’s senatorial or merchant class. His crisis isn’t just rebellious tribunes or a young woman he can’t get out of his mind, but also the heavy burden of responsibility that comes with leading a force of ten thousand men in a hostile wilderness.
The struggle for Caerwin focuses on her stubborn refusal to accept her change of circumstance. No longer part of her ancestral family and tribe, she’s suddenly enslaved to a Roman commander. Can anyone ever come to terms with such a loss of freedom, family, and home?
The greater context encompasses two worlds. Dying on the Roman sword are the ancient traditions of Britain’s Celtic tribes: allegiance to spirits embodied in springs, rivers, hills, trees, and other natural elements, a social order strongly resembling modern democracy, and advanced skills in metallurgy and weaving, to name a few. Many of the mysteries of that world are lost forever because the Celts did not have a written language. Building a fictional world based on this relative dearth of information forces an author deep into archaeological records.
At the time of our story, the last one hundred years since the triumph of Julius Caesar has seen the erosion of Rome’s early republican political system. In its place is a sprawling empire under the sole control of its emperor. The Senate has been reduced to a rubber-stamp function in state affairs. Appetites of all kinds are indulged in hedonistic lifestyles, and this reality shows up in the backstory of some of our characters.
Rome depends on its army and the conquest of new lands to produce its wealth including precious metals and gems, agricultural bounty, and that ever useful commodity, slaves. Since the initial invasion of Britannia in 43 A.D., Emperor Claudius has made it clear to his governor that the four legions under his command must subdue and occupy this island and seize its treasures for the greater glory of Rome. Marcellus has no options. Even in a foreign winter’s cold, he must lead his troops on search and destroy missions.
Restrained in his bedchamber, Caerwin awaits his return knowing that he spills the blood of her people. She hates him. And yet, because he has favored her with his affections, she fares far better than the rest of her fellow countrymen. How does she negotiate that conflict? What is the emotional toll in knowing that she is the survivor? Can a vulnerable young woman resist her body’s urges at the hands of an experienced lover?
Caerwin can never return to the home and family she once knew, but she can at least plan to escape the hated bonds of Roman captivity in the hope of living again among others of her own kind. Will she attempt such a dangerous venture?
Much as he is drawn to this rebellious young queen, Marcellus can’t walk away from his duty to Rome. The concessions he makes to Caerwin soon result in mutterings among his tribunes. Personal and professional crisis ensues.
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Originally posted at http://jimbossffreviews.blogspot.com/2015/10/guest-post-lizzie-ashworth.html