Review copy provided by author
Synopsis- During a ten year siege between two age-old enemies, three women follow very different paths to survive:
Caecilia, a young Roman woman, forsakes her city by marrying the Etruscan Vel Mastarna, exposing herself to the enmity of his people and the hatred of the Romans who consider her a traitoress…
Semni, a reckless Etruscan girl, becomes a servant in the House of Mastarna, embroiling herself in schemes that threaten Caecilia’s children and her own chance for romance…
Pinna, a tomb whore, uses blackmail to escape her grim life and gain the attention of Rome’s greatest general, choosing between her love for him and her loyalty to another…
Historical Fiction at its best, this second volume in the Tales of Ancient Rome series explores the lives of women in war while giving a glimpse into the sexuality, religion, and politics of Roman and Etruscan cultures, two great civilizations of ancient history.
Review- *Please note this review will contain spoilers for The Wedding Shroud*
The Golden Dice is the much anticipated sequel to one of my favourite historical fiction novels of all time, The Wedding Shroud by Australian author Elisabeth Storrs. Set in ancient Rome, The Golden Dice picks up seven years after the conclusion of the preceding book. This time the story follows not only that of Caecilia, the Roman woman married to Etruscan husband Vel Mastarna, but introduces two new female heroines; Semni and Pinna.
The ending of The Wedding Shroud was a little ambiguous, but I chose to believe that Caecilia found her way back to Mastarna. Yay! I was right. Not only did she return to him, but this time she marries him by her own choice. It’s clear over the seven years since then their bond has strengthened as has their family which has nurtured two young boys and soon after, a daughter- despite the war that takes him away and only returns him at winter. Caecilia seems to have settled into life as an Etruscan, though there’s still some unrest among the people, some of who still believe she’s a traitor. It becomes clear early into the story that there’s some tension between Caecilia and Mastarna which created uneasiness in me as a reader as I wasn’t quite sure where this was going to head. I found myself distrusting Mastarna at times, which I suppose was the purpose.
I really appreciate the author’s decision to complement Caecilia’s struggles with the introduction of young women, Semni and Pinna- both of whom I grew to sympathise and admire. Pinna became a ‘night moth’ at just eleven years of age and her street smart sense manages to get her out of the grimy life of prostitution and into the role of concubine to Marcus (Caecilia’s cousin). She holds powerful information about her ‘lover’ that ensures she lives a life of luxury and security. She does not count on however, to fall in love with the General- Marcus’s superior. Drusus, the man Caecilia once had affections for (and Marcus’s best friend) is certainly seen in a different light in The Golden Dice. He’s bitter, cruel and really quite horrible and I had no empathy for him this time around. Marcus, blinded by his feelings for Drusus is just as infuriating though I did feel some sympathy for him.
Semni is a young Etruscan woman who is married to a man she does not love but who provides her with stability and the security of a job as an artist in Caecilia’s household. Semni is a character who is quite difficult to like; she’s self-destructive, impulsive and selfish. She has affairs with little thought of the consequence. She finds herself pregnant to someone other than her husband and is thrown out on the streets. She stays with her sister for some time, only to betray her sister’s trust. While Semni is attracted to the Phoenician warrior, Arruns who guards Mastarna and his family, the Phoenician is not too fond of young, promiscuous Semni- despite her best attempts at seducing him. Their relationship is only altered when Arruns delivers Semni’s baby in the midst of the war and a peculiar bond forms between them. I think Arruns tries very hard not to like Semni, a girl who is very flawed, but he seems to be drawn to her strengths that occasionally shine through.
The women seem to cross paths- either directly or indirectly- and I thought the author did well to provide so many different perspectives of the character’s lives and the war and what was at stake. I must admit it did take some time for me to really become immersed in the story but once I did I couldn’t stop turning the pages. What I didn’t expect when starting to read this book is to find that near the end was the expectation of a third book in the series. There were some plotlines that remain unresolved, though the ones that were tied up felt satisfactory. Now I can’t wait until the next instalment of the series!!
From love to war, passion to duty and some unseemly issues such as incest, paedophilia, rape, betrayal and conspiracies, The Golden Dice brings to life ancient Rome and their conflict with the Etruscans. The Golden Dice certainly gives The Wedding Shroud a run for its money. I enjoyed this one equally as much and I look forward to finding out what Caecilia, Pinna and Semni have in store for them next.
Elisabeth Storrs is a lovely, down-to-earth author and she stopped by the blog a little while ago to some of the interesting things she discovered in her research for The Golden Dice.
The Golden Dice can be purchased from Fishpond and other leading book retailers
This book was read as part of the AWW2013 challenge: