Elisabeth Storrs- The Wedding Shroud (2010)
Publisher: Pier 9, an imprint of Murdoch Books
Synopsis: In 406 BC, to seal a tenuous truce, the young Roman Caecilia is wedded to Vel Mastarna, an Etruscan nobleman from the city of Veii. The fledgling Republic lies only twelve miles across the Tiber from its neighbour, but the cities are from opposing worlds so different are their customs and beliefs.
Leaving behind a righteous society, Caecilia is determined to remain true to Roman virtues while living among the sinful Etruscans. Instead she finds herself tempted by a mystical, hedonistic culture which offers pleasure and independence to women as well as a chance to persuade the Gods to delay her destiny. Yet Mastarna and his people also hold dark secrets and, as war looms, Caecilia discovers that Fate is not so easy to control and that she must finally choose where her allegiance lies.
Review: It has been awhile since I have given a five star rating to a novel and The Wedding Shroud is certainly worthy of this. If I wasn’t a fan of historical romance before, I certainly am now! The Wedding Shroud is a tale of early Rome and it had me hooked from the very first page.
At 18 years of age, Caecilia has only ever experienced genuine love and care from one man in her life, her father. When he dies she is sent away to live with her aunt and uncle. She develops fleeting feelings for her cousin’s friend, Drusus a young strong willed Roman man who wishes to wed her. However, Caecilia’s uncle has other plans in mind and arranges for her to wed an Entruscan fromVeii to continue a lengthy treaty between the neighbours.
Scared, naïve and against her will she marries Vel Mastarna, the wealthy nobleman. Caecilia is thrown into a lifestyle of lust, feminism and temptations completely against her Roman values and beliefs. She struggles to find a balance between her Roman virtues and the way of the Entruscans.
She yearns to return to Roman society and what is left of her family within the year but her husband’s strong desire to have a child dampens her prospects. Caecila develops unexpected friendships with flamboyant step-son Tarchon, compassionate mother-in-law Larthia and her wise servant, Cytheris. Her longing wish to return toRomebecomes a fixation and she seeks out Mastarna’s brother Artile, a priest who she recruits to delay her fate of bearing a child. Caecilia becomes enslaved to these rituals and it clouds her judgement and like most unhealthy obsessions this affects her marriage and friendships. Caecilia learns the role of an Etruscan wife in an unfamiliar city; she learns of Mastarna’s dark and painful past and despite herself learns to love him.
Caecilia is an engaging character and the wave of emotions she experiences- confusion, disgust, betrayal- were so beautifully portrayed that my experience mirrored them. I found my own morality questioned just as Caecilia’s when presented with the various characters and their life choices in these times. I was taken on a journey of discovering a new culture, customs, beliefs just as Caecilia and was trying to make sense of their ways. Just like Caecilia I softened towards the Entruscan lifestyle and although I initially was hoping for Caecilia to escape her unwanted marriage, by the end I wanted her and Mastarna to find love and happiness together.
I could go on and on about the intricacies of this novel but I don’t want to give it all away, because the beauty of reading this story is that I never knew what was around the corner and so I was always pleasantly surprised.
Storrs has a very skilful way of entwining history lessons in a beautiful historical romance story and it all came together very nicely. Upon closing the book I felt educated on roman history, entertained and longing for more.
The ending I had to read a couple of times and I think (if I have gotten it right) the author leaves you to make up your own mind about whether Caecilia chooses to stay in Veii or Rome. So I will just pretend that I got the happily ever after I was hoping for and claim ignorance is bliss. But I am so thankful to hear thatStorrsis working on a sequel to The Wedding Shroud and I will definitely be reading what will be in stall for Caecilia (and hopefully Mastarna) in the next book.
* A huge thank you to the author and Pier 9 for providing a copy of this novel to review.
Elisabeth Storrs was a guest on The Australian Bookshelf on 4th May, 2011 check out her post here.
The Wedding Shroud can be purchased from Fishpond (free shipping to Australia) and various other book retailers.