Review: JULIA PRIMA by Alison Morton

I'm thrilled to share my review for JULIA PRIMA, a historical adventure set in the later days of the Roman Empire by Alison Morton. JULIA PRIMA is a prequel to Alison Morton's award-winning Roma Nova series of novels.

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A Roma Nova novel

Alison Morton

I've been familiar with the Roma Nova novels for a while, and several are awaiting my attention on my Kindle. I must set aside time to read them.

But back to JULIA PRIMA. Julia Bacausa is the daughter of a semi-autonomous prince in the province of Noricum, which roughly straddles parts of today's Austria and Slovenia. She is opinionated, haughty, and well aware of her status. But she is also a little rebel, enjoying a great deal of independence. 

Julia and her father, Prince Bacausus, are believers of the old gods, so his position in particular is precarious as he has to tread a careful line between his religion and the new, official, Christian faith of the Empire. In the midst of this is Julia, divorced in the Pagan manner from her Christian husband, who nonetheless refuses to grant her a divorce. In the eyes of his Church, they are still husband and wife. This throws up many complications for her independence, and for her father.

When a new Roman tribune, Lucius Apulius, arrives in Noricum, Julia finds herself falling head over heels in love. During their first encounter, he considers her a cheap whore, as she was dressed down for the market, to mingle with ordinary people. She doesn't correct his opinion, until he discovers her real identity. But Lucius has to be careful, as he is also a believer in the old gods – something frowned upon by now in the Roman army. 

Does their love story go too fast? Perhaps. I found the speed with which both soon discovered that their lust was turning into a great love a little unrealistic at times. It has the drama of Romeo and Juliet, but there is nothing chaste about their relationship.

With her ex-husband and his uncle, ambitious Bishop Eligius, scheming to get her back, she and Lucius Apulius plan to get married. When she finds herself pregnant, Bacausus arranges for Lucius to be sent back to Rome, almost under house arrest, and a marriage for her to join her cousin, away from home. He turns out cold fish, and with the help of two trusted allies, she plans a daring escape before the gates close on her.

But her journey across Italy is fraught with danger, not only from her cousin, but also from another person who bears a grudge – and who wants to see her dead. Will she make it to Rome alive?

JULIA PRIMA is an exciting, fast-paced romantic adventure. Our heroine is feisty, doesn't mince her words, and nearly falls into several traps laid out for her due to her daring nature. She is used to taking what she wants, and so has to learn a few lessons on her journey. Her companions have their own secrets, which come out during their quest to find Lucius. 

The characters are well-formed, genuine, and flawed. I warmed to her companions, and, in time, to her. She is not a likeable character to start with, but as her experience grows, and she discovers some home truths, she turns into a determined young woman, loyal but still headstrong. There is none of the meekness of a Roman woman about her.

Lucius is portrayed as a rather sensitive young soldier, arrogant at first, but then we see the man behind the mask. Would he really not dare to cross the country to see her again? I don't know.

The setting is exquisite. Julia's trek from the north to Rome is well described, and the author provides us with the original Latin name of the places they pass. I was easily able to click on the Wikipedia link to see which modern towns these were, so I could follow her trail easily. The description of everyday tasks and items, of the Roman way of life in both city and countryside, is realistic and adds a strong sense of ’being there’. 

The plot is fast-paced and gripping. As she travels, you sense the dangers, and you shake your head at her impetuousness at times. But she has guts, and as a young woman in love, her actions are believable. You can easily believe that 'Julia the First’ will be the founder of a new dynasty.

My only gripe would be the rather modern language used by Julia in particular. She swears like an old soldier, so reviewers who don't like swear words, should perhaps be aware of this. It doesn't bother me. But it's the use of some modern English expressions that threw me out of the story early on. Once I got over this, I thoroughly enjoyed it. 

JULIA PRIMA is an engaging historical novel with strong romantic undertones, but also with an accurate sense of place and time. It is very well researched, and the author's deep knowledge of the Roman era, with all its politics, rites, and habits, shines through.

A highly recommended read.



“You should have trusted me. You should have given me a choice.”


AD 370, Roman frontier province of Noricum. Neither wholly married nor wholly divorced, Julia Bacausa is trapped in the power struggle between the Christian church and her pagan ruler father. 


Tribune Lucius Apulius’s career is blighted by his determination to stay faithful to the Roman gods in a Christian empire. Stripped of his command in Britannia, he’s demoted to the backwater of Noricum – and encounters Julia.


Unwittingly, he takes her for a whore. When confronted by who she is, he is overcome with remorse and fear. Despite this disaster, Julia and Lucius are drawn to one another by an irresistible attraction.


But their intensifying bond is broken when Lucius is banished to Rome. Distraught, Julia gambles everything to join him. But a vengeful presence from the past overshadows her perilous journey. Following her heart’s desire brings danger she could never have envisaged…

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About the Author:

Alison Morton

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her nine-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the ancient Roman Empire has survived into the 21stcentury and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but with a sharp line in dialogue. 


She blends her fascination for Ancient Rome with six years’ military service and a life of reading crime, historical and thriller fiction. On the way, she collected a BA in modern languages and an MA in history.  


Alison now lives in Poitou in France, the home of Mélisende, the heroine of her latest two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit. Oh, and she’s writing the next Roma Nova story.

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  1. Thank you so much, Cathie, for taking the time and trouble to write such a detailed review here on your blog.

    1. My pleasure, Alison. It's such an enjoyable story.


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