I write the occasional review for the Historical Novel Society. In fact, in an email, I was once referred to as ‘our Australian reviewer.’ It sounded rather grand. I recall a swell of pride. In reality, however, the role is quite small. Not many Australian authors want historical novels reviewed. You can imagine my pleasure, therefore, when I received a recent request to review The golden dice.
I had reviewed Elisabeth Storrs’ first novel The wedding shroud a couple of years back. Storrs’ flawed characters were memorable and her period detail rich and evocative. I was keen to read the next instalment in her characters’ journey. I wasn’t disappointed. For anyone interested in this period, The golden dice is a must read.
Here is the review I wrote for the Historical Novel Society:
The golden dice by Elisabeth Storrs
When Caecilia chooses the rugged Etruscan general Vel Mastarna over her allegiance to Rome the outcome is war. Yet, although considered a traitor by her Roman family, Caecilia is not fully accepted by the Etruscans with whom she has made her home. As a consequence, Vel faces summers of heavy warfare. His is also hindered by disloyalty and intrigue amongst his countrymen. Not the least of whom is his brother, the scheming high-priest Artile.
In Rome, the Consular General Camillus is determined to defeat the Etruscans. Within his army are Caecilia’s cousin, Marcus, and Drusus, the young man who once declared his love for her. The young warriors share a deadly desire¾to wreak vengeance on Caecilia and her husband Vel. But all is not right between the friends. Each one nurses secrets¾secrets that could lead to their undoing. And when the young prostitute, Pinna stumbles upon them, the stage is set for blackmail and betrayal.
In The Golden Dice, Elisabeth Storrs takes as back to the richly imagined world she created in the Wedding Shroud. Once again the historical detail of her novel is staggering. The relationship between Caecilia and Vel Mastarna is also tender and sensitively portrayed. In addition, Storrs gives us two new third-person female viewpoint characters. Pinna, the prostitute, and Semni the flighty young servant. These characters add complexity to the plot¾indeed it is hard to imagine the story without them¾and give us a portrait of women at war. Yet, at times I felt a little less complexity may have served the story better. I wanted more of Caecilia and Vel.
Having said this, I found the novel compelling and enjoyable, even if I did yearn for greater depth of character. I can’t wait to read the next instalment of Caecilia’s and Vel’s story.