Thousands of years ago, Julia Agrippina wrote the true history of her family, the Caesars. The document was lost, or destroyed, almost immediately.
(It included more monsters than you might think.)
Hundreds of years ago, Fanny and Mary ran away from London with a debauched poet and his sister.
(If it was the poet you are thinking of, the story would have ended far more happily, and with fewer people having their throats bitten out.)
Sometime in the near future, a community will live in a replica Roman city built in the Australian bush. It’s a sight to behold.
(Shame about the manticores.)
Further in the future, the last man who guards the secret history of the world will discover that the past has a way of coming around to bite you.
(He didn’t even know she had a thing for pointy teeth.)
The world is in greater danger than you ever suspected. Women named Julia are stronger than they appear. Don’t let your little brother make out with silver-eyed blondes. Immortal heroes really don’t fancy teenage girls. When love dies, there’s still opera. Family is everything. Monsters are everywhere. Yes, you do have to wear the damned toga.
History is not what you think it is.
Published by Twelfth Planet Press.
I purchased this book.
“One of my grandmothers turned herself into a dragon to prove a point.”
from The Patrician
The second book in the Twelve Planets series from Twelfth Planet Press is Love and Romanpunk, by Tandy Rayner Roberts. This collection features four stories set in the same alternate world, where monsters live side by side with humans and Roman history is nothing like what we know. The above quote sums up a lot of the tone of the collection, and if you’ve smiled reading it, I can almost guarantee that you’ll enjoy these.
The first story in the collection is Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary, which is, on the surface, an alphabetic list of the beasts and monsters which Julia Agrippina’s family have encountered over the years. Deeper, it is a history of the family itself, with focus on the females in particular. This is a very clever story, giving the reader an introduction to both the world and its beasts, and the family itself (including a few emperors who will be familiar to even those readers who have only minor knowledge of Roman history). The men are here, and they have power of a kind – they banish woman, they are given women in marriage as political contracts – but it is the women who wield the power against the monsters, most especially the Julias, who are the warriors who don armour and fight the beasts which plague the family. This story really displays Roberts’ knowledge of Roman history as well as familiarity with many mythological creatures. It is a truly innovative story, with a wonderful tone, and serves as a fantastic beginning to the collection.
The next story is Lamia Victoriana, which takes us away from ancient Roman history and into a new age and another twisting of this world’s history. Here, Mary Wollstonecroft has eloped with Percy Bysshe Shelley, her sister Fanny and the poet’s sister joining them. This is a love story of a kind, one between Fanny and the poet’s sister with her silver-white skin (which the reader will recognise immediately, having read the previous story, as indication of the sister being a lamia). This story is a departure from the first one, both in setting and tone, being much darker. It gives the feeling of the stories being like beads on the string of the Agrippinaverse (as Roberts terms this world), each one leading you on into the next.
The Patrician is the third story in the collection, and brings us into the modern world. Set in Australia, where a replica Roman city, Nova Ostia, has been built as a tourist attraction, complete with population who dress and live in period for the tourists. Here we meet Clea Majora, who in turn meets an odd man, Julius, outside the city walls. Julius is hunting magical creatures, who are drawn to Nova Ostia because the city includes stone taken from real Roman ruins. We follow the intertwining lives of Clea and Julius as Clea hunts with Julius, all the while also having a life of her own – having children, marrying, becoming a grandmother. It is another thread in the whole story, Julius linking back to the first story in the collection. There is a kind of sorrow twining through it, but again Roberts emphasises the power of the female – both as a warrior, as a mother and grandmother, and as a keeper of memory. I love especially that Clea is allowed to grow old and still retain all of her power, and that she has a life of her own outside of her encounters with Julius.
The final story in the collection is Last of the Romanpunks, bringing the reader into the future. Here, the story is set on an airship, the Julia Augusta, which features an ancient Rome themed (aka Romanpunk) bar. We see through the eyes of Sebastian, grandson of Clea from The Patrician, who encounters his ex-girlfriend Eloise, owner of the airship, and seeker of power. The lamia are back again, and there are mentions of events and characters from all of the previous stories, this final story acting to both bring together all of the previous events and open up the possibility of another cycle beginning.
Overall, this is another brilliant installment in the Twelve Planets. Roberts knowledge of Roman history is threaded through a vivid alternate history filled with amazing characters, especially her female characters (though it has to be noted that her male characters are just as capable, so long as they’re not mad emperors). I fell in love with this world, and I really hope that Roberts returns to it, hopefully with a novel-length sequel to Last of the Romanpunks. Please?