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Literature / Romanitas

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Romanitas is a trilogy of Alternate History novels written by Sophia McDougall. The books are set in a world where The Roman Empire still exists in the present day and rules over a large chunk of the world. In this timeline, history deviates in the second century C.E., when the Emperor Pertinax survives the assassination attempt made on his life in 193.

In the present time, the empire is ruled over by the Novian dynasty, and the narrative follows Marcus Novius Faustus Leo, the 16-year-old heir presumptive to the throne who has just lost his parents in a suspicious car accident. Meanwhile in London, recently escaped slavegirl Una is setting about rescuing her brother Sulien from crucifixion...

The Trilogy
Romanitas (2005)
Rome Burning (2007)
Savage City (2011)

The series provides examples of:

  • Action Girl: Ziye once fought as a gladiatrix in the arena and still remembers all her old tricks, but has vowed to end her violent ways.
  • Alternate History: The books are set in a world where The Roman Empire never ended. Rome rules over all of Europe, the Middle East, South America and the north half of Africa. The Nionian Empire rules most of East Asia and Oceania and shares North America with Rome. And the Sinoan Empire covers most of central Asia. The south half of Africa comprises separate states unified under the banner of Independent Africa.
  • Aristocrats Are Evil: Averted in the sense that Marcus plans on using his power for good when he becomes emperor. Played completely straight with Drusus, though.
  • Arranged Marriage: In order to improve relations between Rome and Nionia, a marriage is arranged between Marcus and Nionian Princess Noriko. Although Marcus and Noriko like each other and attempt to make the best of the situation, it soon becomes apparent to both that Marcus can neither forget Una nor give her up.
  • The Caligula: Drusus
  • Crapsack World: Falls into the dramatic category.
  • Earn Your Happy Ending: Varius and Una.
  • The Emperor: The emperors in the series vary in their depiction.
    • The Nionian Go-Natoku Emperor and Roman Emperors Titus and (briefly) Marcus are Benevolent Emperors for the most part.
    • Drusus falls somewhere between Evil Overlord and President Evil.
    • Sinoan Emperor Sing Ji appears to be more of a Puppet King figure, with his mother Dowager Empress Jun Shen doing the actual ruling.
  • The Evil Prince: Drusus, natch.
  • Gladiator Games: Still held in the Colosseum as a method of execution for criminals, and for entertainment on important occasions such as the emperor's birthday. However, wild beasts such as Lions have become extinct, resulting in the Romans developing a breed of attack dog/wolf that live shortened lives but prove just as deadly in the arena.
  • God-Emperor:
    • Roman emperors are still deified posthumously.
    • The Nionian emperor is also considered a god.
  • Healing Hands: Sulien
  • Jesus Was Way Cool: While the timeline deviates at a point so Christianity does not become the state religion of the empire, Christianity appears to have taken root in Independent Africa. Due to his being put to death by the Romans, Jesus becomes a rallying figure for the Independent Africans when the Ethiopian emperor decides to take back Roman Ethiopia with the help of the Nionians.
  • Killed Off for Real: Marcus
  • La RĂ©sistance: The support network of slaves and contacts cultivated by Una and Varius.
  • The Medic: Sulien
  • Missing Mom:
    • Una and Sulien's mother sells them both into slavery before the events of Romanitas. Neither has seen her since.
    • Also applies to Marcus, along with Disappeared Dad.
  • Never Found the Body: Varius and Ziye are able to rescue Una and Sulien from the Colosseum and pass them off as dead to the Vigiles. When Drusus demands evidence from the Vigiles that they are in fact dead, they cannot offer any proof, assuming that the bodies have already been cremated by Ziye posing as the morgue attendant.
  • Noble Fugitive: Marcus in Romanitas.
  • Praetorian Guard: Still the emperor's bodyguards and still important when it comes to the imperial succession- Drusus manages to secure his place on the throne by convincing the Praetorians that he is the rightful emperor as opposed to Salvius, who Marcus appointed as his successor to prevent Drusus from taking the throne.
  • Prophecies Are Always Right
  • Short-Lived Leadership: Marcus is emperor for only minutes.
  • Sins of Our Fathers: There is a history of madness in the Novian dynasty, dating back to when an ancestor quelled an uprising in Africa and was subsequently cursed by a witch. Acts as a Chekhov's Gun, as the madness curse strikes down one member of each generation of the Novii. Drusus' father (and Marcus' uncle) Lucius succumbs to madness before the events of Romanitas and at the conclusion of Savage City, it is Drusus who is a victim of the curse.
  • Suicide Attack: At the conclusion of Rome Burning, Dama launches a suicide attack during the games celebrating Emperor Titus' recovery. He detonates a bomb on the roof of the Colosseum that explodes directly over the imperial box. At the beginning of Savage City, it is revealed that the attack killed Titus and mortally wounded Marcus, who dies after reigning as emperor for just a few minutes.
  • Telepathy: Una's ability to read minds comes in handy when she and Sulien are fugitives.
  • Trauma Conga Line: Where do we begin?!
    • Marcus loses both his parents in a suspicious car accident and is then forced to go on the run when he becomes a target for the same conspirators who orchestrated the car crash. Then when he manages to get back to Rome to tell the emperor the truth about his parents' death, he is drugged and thrown into a mental hospital by the conspirators in an attempt to silence him for good. He spends most of Rome Burning trying to stop Drusus' attempts to oust him from his position as regent and heir apparent, and has to give up his relationship with Una to marry Noriko in order to secure peace between Rome and Nionia. And to top it all off, he's mortally wounded in the Suicide Attack on the Colosseum and succumbs to his injuries just moments after being sworn in as emperor.
    • Sulien is falsely accused of a crime, narrowly escapes being crucified for said crime and also ends up on the run with his sister and Marcus avoiding the authorities out to capture him and his sister for escaping. In Rome Burning, he is held prisoner by Dama when he realises he's responsible for the fires and the attacks on Nionian soil. And in Savage City, he arrives at the Colosseum too late to save Marcus and has to go on the run again when Drusus publically accuses him and Una of orchestrating the attack. After getting caught while trying to free Una, he's then nearly killed in the arena by the wolves. He escapes to Egypt with Una, but then gets conscripted into the Roman army to fight in Terranova against the Nionians. Ultimately, he manages to survive the campaign and is reunited with Una in time to make their push into Rome to confront Drusus.
    • Varius sees his wife Gemella accidentally murdered when she eats poisoned sweets intended for Marcus and is then himself caught up in the conspiracy. He attempts suicide, but is arrested and is then blackmailed into confessing the location where Marcus is hiding. In Savage City he is forced into hiding when Drusus publically accuses him of involvement in the Colosseum attack. Though he is successful in eluding arrest, he is nearly killed in Alexandria when the Nionians commence bombing the city and becomes gravely ill when the shrapnel wounds he sustains in the bombing become infected.
  • Villainous Breakdown: Throughout the events of Savage City, Drusus steadily becomes more and more unhinged and finally loses it completely upon being confronted by Una, Sulien and the army of slaves they've brought into the palace with them.
  • The Wise Prince: Marcus.