Mount Readmore Book Review 2018, 123/200
Finished on 8/5/2018
Genres: Fantasy, Historical Fiction, Alternate History, Rome, Aven Cycle, Political Fantasy
All Roads Lead to Aven
The dictator Ocella is dead, and the Republic of Aven breathes a sigh of relief. Aven is a budding empire on the shores of the Middle Sea, and is a vague Rome-analog named after one of Rome’s earliest rival powers. Ocella, like Julius Caesar, took over the Republic, crushing the Senate and ruling with an iron fist using a mixture of Legionary military might and civilian magic. But with his death the bottleneck of power is relieved. Aven City is caught in a moment of political strife: will another Dictator be declared, or will the Republic gain control again?
Aven’s magic users derive their power from the gods, by worshiping the ancient gods of Jupiter, Juno, Pluto, Mars and all the rest of the Roman Pantheon. Magic is more common among the patriarchs, but it’s not unknown for plebs to be blessed by the magic of the gods- however neither pleb nor patriarch mage can wield political power. There is a big taboo against mages becoming senators or using their magic in battle (which is partially why dictator Ocella was such bad news, because he was willing to use magic). The magic includes elemental varieties (Earth, Air, Fire, Water) as well as more nebulous powers (Time, Spirit, Fracture, Shadow, Light).
However Aven’s gods aren’t alone. The Celts of Iberia also have their own gods and magic, but it’s dangerous blood magic which is never fully understood. And the Celts want freedom from Aven (aka Rome), so when a charismatic young leader starts overthrowing the tribes loyal to Rome he uses dangerous blood magic to do it.
This is a story told from multiple POVs, including several Aventan (aka Roman) POVs as well as one Celtic freedomfighter.
Plot: This is a Political Fantasy novel at it’s most apogee. We literally have a story about a Senate, with elections and Dictators, so governance and politics is heavily involved here. With the death of Ocella the main characters are struggling for power in the power vacuum remaining. I liked it… but the story suffers from the problem of not much actually happening. There are a lot of ‘events’ which occur in this plot, (dude was mind-controlled, city burns, assassination attempts, and more) but I was expecting more actual combat instead of back-alley tussles.
Pacing: And here’s where things kinda didn’t work so well for me. The pacing kinda was slow. I was expecting more of a Military Fantasy novel from this, as this is about Rome and Rome has legions. However the author chose to write a book which was pretty much only about politics, and politics can be slow and boring at times. This book contained A LOT of of talking heads. There was combat going on off-screen, which I would have liked to see. The lack of military combat seen on-screen really slowed things down.
Setting: Man, I wanted to love this setting. Instead I only liked it. Aven is Rome reborn, and reborn slightly different. I liked how the author was so true to the source material (she even used the roman term ‘aedile’ correctly. Imagine that!). I liked the magic, and how it related with the gods. However in the end I felt that the author spent too much time worldbuilding and not enough time plotting/charactering. There was simply too much info on magic/Roman government and not enough of everything else.
Characters: By and large I liked the characters. I think Latona was probably the most well defined and likable character. Her character arc of slowly growing into her independence in a repressive Romanesque society was very enjoyable to read. I think the characters are the main draw of this book.
Constructive criticism time. My biggest problem was that Dictator Ocella sounded so interesting, but the book starts after his death. Even after death Ocella cast a MASSIVE shadow over this entire book (he was probably mentioned once every two or three pages at least), and his presence warped the fabric of Aventan society. He was fascinating; so why didn’t the author write about him instead?
Highly Recommended if you want to read a Political Fantasy novel. This reminded me of A SHADOW IN SUMMER, in that it’s a very intricate plot with very little actual action and a lot of political chicanery.
Recommended if you want to read a good book.