Review: EXSILIUM by Alison Morton

Today, I'm absolutely delighted to welcome back author of historical fiction, alternative history, and thrillers – Alison Morton. Please find my review of her recent release, EXSILIUM, sequel to the brilliant JULIA PRIMA, below.

EXSILIUM is currently on blog tour with The Coffee Pot Book Club. Find fascinating guest posts, enticing extracts, and other reviews here!




A Roma Nova Foundation Novel

Alison Morton


I've been waiting patiently for the release of this exciting sequel to the exceptional JULIA PRIMA (see my review HERE!), and I'm thrilled to say, the wait has been well worth it.

But have your tissues at hand, as EXSILIUM begins with a tragic plot twist. It made me feel a little bereft as I quite liked that character. But hey, such is cleverly-plotted historical fiction. Expect the unexpected.

We've reached the dying years of the once glorious Roman Empire. Christianity spreads through the ranks, amongst the members of the senate, the chosen imperator, or the many ordinary people who have converted to this new 'cult'. But there is a small group of people who refuse to follow the Christos, but instead stay true to their ancient gods. And this novel is about this select group as everyone must come to terms with the growing animosity from all sides.

The novel unfolds in three points of view, each distinctly different from the other, and in consequential order. First, we meet Maelia Mitela.

In the fight between contenders to the imperial crown of Western Rome, Maelia's husband has chosen the wrong side, the side of their true gods. When they lose the battle, and he loses his life, he is soon cast as a traitor – and her Roman home is taken over by the imperial guards. Finding some solace in the fact that, as a widow with children, she would not be forced to remarry, Maelia is carving out a life for herself and her son. But as she needs someone to run the family farm in the countryside, she choses a cousin who will have a devastating effect on her son's upbringing. Despite lawyer Marcellus Varus' hints at marriage, she remains steadfastly single, and I couldn't help but feel sorry for him. Maelia is a strong woman, a warm, caring character, but life has a few tough lessons in store for her (which I don't want to give away, obviously).

Then we switch to the POV of Lucius Apulius, senator, and husband of the wonderful Julia Prima. Following his wife's tragic death, he brings up his three daughters alone, but as the situation for those following the old gods becomes more dangerous, Lucius hatches a plan – a plan that involves his late wife's home, Noricum, and her pagan father. But will he convince others to join him? Lucius – intelligent, hard-working, and honest, finds himself as the born, if reluctant, leader. But will he prevail?

The last POV is Galla, eldest daughter of Julia and Lucius. After discovering her husband cheated on her, she demands a divorce. A strong-willed young woman, much like her mother, Galla hates the fact that being a female is detrimental to her wielding any great influence. But her administrative and negotiating skills come in handy when her father's plan takes shape, and after some reluctance, the others begin to listen to her. 

Then the long journey north-east begins, but not without trouble. Will the small group make it to Noricum? Or will they be caught as traitors? Find out in the novel!



EXSILIUM begins a few years after JULIA PRIMA ends. Julia's and Lucius' relationship is a happy one, until tragedy strikes. Then the action moves fast through the next few years, as their daughters grow up, and make their own way in the Roman world.

We also hear more about other characters involved in their lives – Maelia, Marcellus, Gaius (Maelia's brother), Tellus, and then Lucius' eldest daughters, Galla and Lucilla, who turns out to be a bit of an Amazon, with her fighting skills. There is a fabulous plot twist near the end that involves her, and I really enjoyed that part, for both characters involved.

The struggle to maintain the religion that had been in place for over a millennium is well portrayed. As with every new religion that carves its place in history, the Christos followers are portrayed as threatening, unrelenting in their drive to have everyone converted, by whatever means. I know very little about that particular era, but, having read this novel, I can well imagine the bullying. 

Ms Morton's research is impeccable, and as the plot unravels, we are gripped with a growing sense of unease, and concern for those who don't play ball. It was just a question of time when Pagans were removed from offices of state or the senate, and having this determined group move to safer grounds – in Noricum – makes much sense. It could have happened.

The fast-paced narrative takes your breath away at times, and as the trek heads north, dangers lurk everywhere. 

I did particularly enjoy Lucius' story, as here is a man who has lost his wife, who has four young daughters who show the same traits as their rather rebellious mother, and who must juggle the two different religions vying for supremacy. I loved his intelligence and calm nature, and that he finds himself guiding a group of refugees away from the once mighty city of Rome, now descending into lawlessness and danger.

Whilst the part of their journey was fascinating – we follow the geographical trail through Italy – I thought at times that parts were a little far-fetched. If the empire wanted young men for their wars, they would not only have set up road blocks, but they surely must have known of secret tracks through nearby forests, which circumvented the main routes.

Apart from that, I could have read more books about this brave group's adventures in setting up their new home, which are perfectly outlined in the Epilogue. It explains various characters that the 'modern' Roma Nova novels refer to, and explains the origins. Though I wish we could have stayed with them for longer...

EXSILIUM is an at times evocative account of what people do when they're running out of options. The flight of the small group of believers in the old gods is incredibly moving, as every character is aware of what would happen should they be caught and their plan revealed. A tentative trust can be so easily broken.

I must return now to the Roma Nova novels of the 20th and 21st century, to discover more about everything panned out. Watch this space!

Another fascinating read by Alison Morton for fans of historical fiction, Roman fiction, and those who enjoy a touch of alternative history. It could have happened...



Exile – Living death to a Roman

AD 395. In a Christian Roman Empire, the penalty for holding true to the traditional gods is execution. 

Maelia Mitela, her dead husband condemned as a pagan traitor, leaving her on the brink of ruin, grieves for her son lost to the Christians and is fearful of committing to another man.

Lucius Apulius, ex-military tribune, faithful to the old gods and fixed on his memories of his wife Julia’s homeland of Noricum, will risk everything to protect his children’s future.

Galla Apulia, loyal to her father and only too aware of not being the desired son, is desperate to escape Rome after the humiliation of betrayal by her feckless husband.

For all of them, the only way to survive is exile.


About the Author:

Alison Morton

Alison Morton writes award-winning thrillers featuring tough but compassionate heroines. Her ten-book Roma Nova series is set in an imaginary European country where a remnant of the Roman Empire has survived into the 21st century and is ruled by women who face conspiracy, revolution and heartache but use a sharp line in dialogue. The latest, EXSILIUM, plunges us back to the late 4th century, to the very foundation of Roma Nova.

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 two contemporary thrillers, Double Identity and Double Pursuit.

Connect with Alison:



  1. Goodness! Thank you for such a comprehensive and thoughtful review. I tend to become very involved with my characters! Julia tried to give Lucius a son, but he ended up with four daughters whom he came to love unconditionally and to respect as they grew older and their abilities developed. There may be short shorties and novellas about them in the future!


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