Throw a number of interconnected characters together, add a dash of mental complexity to each, sprinkle with a touch of war politics, compelling romance and jarring violence, and you have Call to Juno, the third book in Elisabeth Storrs’ series A Tale of Ancient Rome. Storrs’ historical fiction novel flits largely between Ancient Rome and the Etruscian city Veii. Conflict between the cities is rife, largely due to ex-Roman Caecilia’s denunciation of her birthplace. Now Queen of Veii, Caecilia’s call to destroy Rome further escalates the tension between the two cities, ensuring that they become locked in a fierce war. A number of characters are thrust into Call to Juno’s spotlight, affording readers the opportunity to view the Veii versus Rome clash from a number of differing viewpoints. Caecilia’s actions set the bulk of the novel’s narrative on course, certainly. But the journeys of other characters help to round out the novel and accurately centre in on life in Veii and Ancient Rome. Roman tribune Marcus’ struggle with his sexuality is painfully rooted in truth. Marcus’ plight, to keep his feelings for friend Drusus carefully guarded, echo both Ancient Rome’s homophobic discourse, and the battle that a number of people still face today. Similarly, former sex worker Pinna, now a concubine in love with her master, fights to keep her past under wraps. Making it to book’s end in order to discover the fate of Marcus and Pinna alone is well worth multiple page-turning nights. Each character is multifaceted in their own right. Caecilia is often frustratingly impulsive, making a number of important decisions seemingly based on her emotions. Yet her bravery in following through on her decisions is surprisingly inspiring. Just like the novel’s readers, Caecilia isn’t perfect. Her foibles and successes, as well as her obvious love for her four children and her husband, Vel Mastarna, paint her not as an annoying, one-dimensional character, but as a relatable human. Storrs helpfully includes a Cast List of every character included in Call to Juno. As a large amount of characters contribute to the events of the novel, recalling how each person fits into the puzzle becomes a slightly overwhelming task at times. Readers can pour through the list whenever they need to, helping to clarify each character’s purpose. To read a novel and feel as though you’re a first-hand observer of its events, no matter how long ago or far away it takes place, is an intoxicatingly satisfying feeling. When the war between the clashing cities escalates, readers are drawn directly into the heart wrenching action. While we obviously weren’t alive in 396 BC, Storrs’ ability to catapult her readers into days long past, no doubt due in part to her intricate research, allows us to walk through the shoes of each and every character living amongst the Call to Juno universe, thus cementing the novel’s status as highly readable.
This review is part of the Swinburne journal 'Backstory'