Independent reviews

This is only a selection – See also Goodreads reviews and Waterstones reviews. 

From A Maze of Reviews (a top 100 Amazon UK reviewer)
8 November 2014—i-j.html
Amazon review (5 star) here

INCEPTIO (Roma Nova #1) by Alison MortonINCEPTIO (Roma Nova #1) by Alison Morton  5 stars

A truly gripping story with all the elements of a modern classic saga. The action is narrated by Karen Brown, the protagonist, a device which always provides tension and immediacy. Stuck in a dull job with a small advertising agency, Karen’s main pleasure is spending her free time in New York’s Kew Park where she volunteers as park attendant. Stopping an assault on an old man by three drugged-up youths, she punches the leader, who turns out to be the son of the second most powerful man in the country. Instead of receiving a commendation, she is sacked in disgrace, her name is entered on a national security watch list and the Secret Service places her under active surveillance.

Meanwhile, an inventor from Roma Nova (where Karen’s mother was born) travels to New York seeking commercial representation. Karen is singled out to deliver the all-important pitch, and her strong presentation impresses both the inventor and his interpreter, Conradus Tellus, a strikingly handsome but mysterious young man whose immense personal magnetism finds an easy target in Karen’s lonely heart. Soon her New York life becomes unbearable and, after she narrowly survives a kidnap attempt, Conradus offers her an escape with her mother’s family in fabled Roma Nova. But can she trust the enigmatic stranger and leave behind the only life she has known, in the land of the free?

As a native of Rome myself, the Roman civilization has fascinated me from as far back as I can remember. And here is a tale where the historical and the fantastical blend and co-exist with such vividness that the re-invented Eastern United States and the wholly-fictional Roma Nova feel as real as the world outside my window. How could I resist being intrigued by this story?

Armed with impeccable research and clear-sighted vision, Alison Morton dares to imagine a different fate for the mighty, disintegrating Roman Empire. In her scenario a dozen prominent Roman families succeeded in fleeing the inevitable. With the cunning and persistence of true survivors, they travelled to a fictitious location (just inside Austria and above the border with Northern Italy), and regrouped, building a brave new nation ruled by women. Even marriage, though not an essential condition, confirms their superior role, with the husband taking on the wife’s last name as he essentially joins her clan. Succession also falls to the nearest female heir and, while men are honoured and valued for their manifest worth, they play, at best, a supporting role to the Queen Bee of Nova Roma, the Empress. In this tough and egalitarian society, women are often found in traditionally male-dominated careers, such as police work and the military.

This is heady stuff and it would have been very easy for a female writer to overplay her hand and fall into the trap of sugar-coating a sort of aggressive feminist dialogue. To her credit, Alison Morton keeps a clear head and steers confidently around the pitfalls to deliver a totally believable alternate universe where women are effectively in control but never free from their inevitable dependence on men for some gender-specific tasks, such as reproduction.

Although her characters are supremely well drawn and expertly deployed throughout the story, the cast of this epic is so large that I am thankful to the author for the list of Dramatis Personae at the beginning of the book. Karen herself is a tough young woman, not yet 25, hardened by a mother-less childhood and unloving upbringing by her dead father’s cousin in Nebraska. Despite her practical and unsentimental veneer, she is vulnerable to her emotions and when she falls in love, it happens in slow motion and despite her better judgement, as her self-defence mechanism senses a danger she cannot categorize. The main male lead is a fascinating and enigmatic personality, in many ways an anti-hero, but compelling in his strong physical and psychological presence. Karen is instantly attracted to him but distrusts him. She will have ample opportunity to discover why. Karen’s life-altering adventure results in satisfying self-growth but the threat to her life manifests itself again and again, even when she feels safe at last, both physically and mentally ready to defend herself. But she is being targeted beyond the remit of the original incident in the park. Her pursuer will stop at nothing to achieve her destruction and the danger always comes right out of the blue.

There is so much action and so many sub-plots that it’s clear the author is only warming up her typing fingers. INCEPTIO, however complex a story, is but the first of a series of books drawing the reader into this unsettlingly plausible world. What I found fascinating is the combination of the down-to-earth, practical aptitudes of the ancient Romans, their pagan values, and the technological talent and innate survival skills of their contemporary descendants, giving Roma Nova a unique world standing well in excess of its minute size. Not unlike Switzerland, San Marino or Luxembourg.

Although comparisons are always subjective, I was reminded of the best of Mary Stewart. You don’t have to be a history buff, or even interested in ancient civilizations, to get thoroughly caught up in the flow of this well-structured, powerfully-narrated saga. Despite the strong themes, the narration remains fairly clean and suitable for the widest audience and I, personally, found it an absorbing and enjoyable read. I am more than ready for the next instalment.

From The Lit Bitch 26 August 2014

Review: Inceptio (Roma Nova #1) by Alison Morton

This is my first experience reading an alternative history novel. Inceptio is not just an alternative history novel though…it’s part political thriller, part romance, and part fantasy.

Karen Brown leads an unassuming life. She grew up in rural Nebraska and moved to New York where she continues living a quiet life.

She works in a cubicle with no major responsibilities. She isn’t seeing anyone special, and like most young women on their own, she’s barely making ends meet.

But all that is about to change, in a big way.

When she starts working on a new account for a Roma Nova organization, she has no idea they are actually there surveying her. She soon learns that her mother, a fellow Roma Novan, made arrangements for her to be rather well off.

But as the saying goes, more money, more problems….someone wants her to disappear.

Fearing for her life, Karen and her newly discovered Roma Novan family encourage her to renounce her citizenship and move to Roma Nova permanently where they can protect her.

But the safety of her new world is soon threatened by a man known as Renschman who is hunting her down relentlessly.

This is where the novel hooked me: who was this man who wanted to kill her? What is his beef with her? Is there a personal history between him and her family? Who what when where why how?

I liked how the novel started out with this ominous villain, Renschman and progressed from there to develop into a full fledged thriller. I liked how we met him right away as the foundation was being put in place for the rest of the novel.

he novel as a whole was completely unique. I loved the alternative setting for the United States and the country of Rome Nova. It was fun to see history come alive in a different way–it made me really think about what the world would be like if things in history has ended up differently. I love novels that make me think in those terms.

It was nice that she didn’t get too involved in the history or history building part of the story too much in the first novel. She gave us enough to get the ball rolling but not so much that there was nothing to look forward to discovering in the next book.

There was one down side to not overly indulging the reader though–I loved how the novel combined both past and future politics, geography, and history, but I did wish we had seen how the different countries and politics all worked together. We saw a lot of the Roma Novans and their politics etc, but I would have liked to see how the other countries did things etc.

As for the characters in the novel–Karen has the worst luck in the world. I can’t help but sympathize with characters like that. Who doesn’t love an underdog or a come back kid character. I also enjoyed the secondary characters–Conrad was sexy and mysterious. I liked seeing his character unfold.

The romance between Karen and Conrad was also tasteful and well done. I liked that it wasn’t the entire focus of the novel. At the same time, the romance didn’t seem like it was thrown in for effect….it contributed the the story and broke up the plot nicely.

The plot was fast paced. I liked how the chapters weren’t excessively long. With each chapter I felt like the story was progressing and nothing was thrown in for fluff–every bit of the plot mattered which made it advance steadily.

Though this is a series, this book wrapped up all loose ends rather than leaving too much opened ended for the next book. That seems to be a trend with most series books which can sometimes be really frustrating as I find it often leaves the book feeling ‘unfinished’ and I often feel less satisfied with the read when that happens. This book was not like that. Things got wrapped up and the next book should be a fresh extension of the story rather than just a continuation.

If you are looking for an entirely different twist on history, then this is a great novel to start with.  I am looking forward to the next book in the series for sure!

Recommendation: 4 out of 5


HNSlogo_fullHistorical Novel Society Indie Review
(also posted to with 4 stars)

This is not an historical novel, being set entirely in the present day, but what may prove of interest to HNS readers is that the author has set her plot in an alternate history timeline.It is a modern thriller. In New York, twenty-something Karen Brown’s life is turned upside down as both the ‘big brother’ corruption of a modern state and a secret from her past collide with unexpected violence. Rescued by a charismatic alpha male, she discovers a new life in central Europe, in her late mother’s homeland, only to discover that her past and its secrets are determined to catch up with her.

So far, so readable, but what catches the HNS’s eye is that Karen’s late mother’s homeland is Roma Nova, a Latin speaking, pagan state with a penchant for creating excellent technology and a sizable voice in global politics. The premise is that in AD 395 after the Emperor Theodosious’ decree banning all pagan religions, some 400 Romans loyal to the old gods and presenting some 12 major patrician families left Italy to found a new state. So in Roman Nova Saturnalia is still celebrated instead of Christmas (and is very popular with tourists!), gladiatorial combats are popular and the Praetorian Guard has become something like the SAS.

The alternate timeline is presented in a short introduction, and most of its consequences are drip fed throughout the text. Personally I would have liked more of the history, but this is the first in a series and perhaps the author has deeper plans. In the meantime, this is a convincing thriller with some interesting background.



LASRBook of the Month SealLong and Short Reviews

Karen Brown works hard to make her own way in New York, present day, alternate reality, but when her life is threatened after a kidnapping attempt, she must make a decision to stay and be eliminated by a brutal government enforcer, or renounce her citizenship and flee to the land where her mother was born, Roma Nova.

I really enjoyed this novel with its great characters and fast-moving, action filled plot. I was especially intrigued by its alternate world where the European country Roma Nova exists, a neutral but powerful nation founded sixteen centuries ago by Roman exiles. It is a nation run by women and it is here that the few remaining members of Karen’s family reside. Alison Morton has given a real ancient Roman feel to this novel, portraying a world where Latin is still spoken and the land is ruled by the twelve families descended from Roman times. The setting is fully developed and totally believable. Roma Nova seems a wonderful, if very different, place to live and Karen does have to adjust to a totally new way of life. But her grandmother is a very sympathetic person, as well as one of the leading figures of this small nation.

Karen is threatened again by Renschman and she then develops her own inner strengths, taking on a new career, and finding some unique friends along the way. These supporting characters are both interesting and complex, adding another layer of richness to the story. The pacing is excellent with never a dull moment as Karen moves from one adventure to another, learning and growing as she encounters past secrets and present day realities.

Lovers of mystery and suspense as well as lovers of books about alternate realities are sure to enjoy Inceptio. It is a complex and exciting novel with an incredibly rich setting.

STOP PRESS! INCEPTIO was voted Book of the Month in January 2014

Dan Brown could do with a few lessons from Ms Morton.
Posted 24 May 2013 by Marisa Wikramanayake, freelance journalist and editor

MarisaNo, I did not make a spelling error – it is INCEPTIO NOT Inception.

If you think it sounds like a thriller, you would be right. If you thought it sounded like a Dan Brown novel you will be gratified to know that you were wrong. Dan Brown could do with a few lessons from Ms Morton.

All stories start with a “What if?” moment. But here the “What if?” moment is colossally huge. What if at the end of the Roman Empire, a group of citizens struck out and formed a small nation-state to continue living the way they had in Rome and that country persisted through the ages, adapting to become a matriarchal society?

It’s an example of this new sub-genre that has popped up on the scene: alternate history thrillers.

In Inceptio, Roma Nova exists, Adolf Hitler never did and there was just the Great War. In Inceptio, protagonist Karen Brown has what she herself eventually refers to as a “Princess Diaries” moment as she suddenly realises her Roma Novan heritage means a lot more than just having a Roma Novan mother and an American father and that actually the combination is probably going to cause her a hell of a lot of trouble.

The kind of trouble that gets you put on a terrorist list, kidnapped, nearly murdered, over and over again, despite having a rather fetching modern day version of a Praetorian Guard (gladiator for the rest of us) around to protect you. The kind of trouble that makes you give up US citizenship and run for the border, literally.

Did I mention that there is a superhero in it? Well, there is. Briefly but nevertheless there is one. And Roman villas. Karen Brown finds herself slowly stripping layers of her identity that she has clung to for so long, piecing together details of what her legacy was supposed to be, what it ended up being and who her parents were which is important because there is a psychopath on her tail, intent on killing her and she has no idea why.

Gladiators, even modern day ones, can take one too many knocks to the head and be stupid so love does not run smooth and Karen finds herself eager to protect herself and after major training at boot camps and gyms, transforms herself from an All American, English speaking advertising executive to a Latin speaking, I will break the rules to get where I need to be, secret police agent/Praetorian Guard/ special forces soldier/operative so awesome there isn’t one specific term for it. Which kind of knocks everyone else for a loop but by this point that is becoming par for the course.

The story isn’t boring at all. The twists and turns are insane, unexpected and yet logical when you think about what this Ms Brown is going through. The final twist is the pay off and when you get to it after being unable to put the book down, you are not disappointed. Ms Morton provides a quick list of who’s who at the start with all the Latin names but you don’t need it to navigate the story.

The quirky sense of humour is apparent from the way Karen views her situation and those of others to the way everyone swears by using the name of a Roman god. “Juno!”, “Mercury Esus!”, “By Jupiter!” and so on. I am planning to adopt this just to confuse the living daylights out of everyone else I know.

The best part? Inceptio can standalone as a story but is part one of a trilogy. Which is apt. ‘Inceptio’ is Latin for ‘inception’ which means ‘the start’.

Which is exactly where you should begin. Now.

Alison Morton is on Twitter and has a website here. Amazon sells Inceptio here for $14.40 AUD.


Well written, imaginative, and gripping all in one
Posted 2 June 2013 by Kate Jones, of Canadian book blog Kate’s Bookcase

With this blog, I am occasionally contacted by authors and publishers asking to send me books to read and review.  I end up turning down more of these offers than I accept for two reasons:  1)  My to-be-read stack is overflowing and so I don’t want to pile it even higher, even if the book is free, and 2)  I don’t want to accept books that I don’t think that I will like since, fun as it is to write negative reviews, I don’t want to be in a position where I have to write a negative review on a book that was given to me for free!

Fortunately, I am not in that situation with this book!

When Alison Morton approached me last winter and offered to send me a copy of Inceptio when it was published, I was intrigued by the concept.  This book is considered to be “Alternative History”.  What if the Roman Empire hadn’t fallen?  What if a faction had left Rome and settled in a corner of Europe, and had created an independent country which had survived and thrived through to today?  I have to say that the Roman period of history has fascinated me since I was young and exposed to novels like Eagle of the Ninth.  In high school, I wanted to learn Latin (my school had the only Latin teacher left in the school board), but I was the only one in the school who wanted to learn Latin and so the class was cancelled.  And so I agreed to receive a copy of this book for review.

It did take me a bit to get into, but I blame this on the fact that I started reading it in the evenings while sleeping in a tent on a weekend filled with 12-hour days of meetings.  When I was able to start reading it for real this week, I was hooked.  I blame this book for too many nights this week spent up waaaay too late reading, since I couldn’t put this book down.

The main character, Karen Brown / Carina Mitela has lived her whole life in the country of Eastern United States.  Both of her parents are dead, and she is very self-sufficient in New York City.  But then her world starts falling apart as she is fired due to corruption from the volunteer position that gives meaning to her life; and all of a sudden her life is being threatened.  She then discovers that she can renounce her EUS citizenship and become a citizen of Roma Nova as her mother was from Roma Nova, and she is her grandmother’s heir.

I was fascinated with the Roma Nova society.  It is matriarchal – the women have the power, and the eldest female inherits from her mother.  There are elements from ancient Roman society that have carried over, including the gods and the festivals and the language (Latin isn’t dead after all!); and yes, prisoners of the state are sentenced to hard labour in the silver mines.  It is a very hierarchical society, and Karen is lucky to have been born into the top layer; however the genders are treated equally, with maybe a slight preference towards females.

And speaking of females, let me say that Karen / Carina was an awesome heroine!  She takes charge of her own life and she does things her way rather than being a pawn – she is a kick-ass (literally, at times) character as she trains her body and her mind and rises to the top of the Roma Nova military (the Praetorian Guard Special Forces).

If I had one complaint about this book it would be that it is almost too action-packed.  It almost felt like 3 or 4 books crammed into one.  Some stretching out of the time in between the action or description of normal day-to-day life in Roma Nova would have been nice.

I was, however, excited to read at the end of the book that there is a second book in the series planned – Perfiditas.

Thank you, Alison Morton for writing this book and for sending me a copy!  It was a treat to read a book that was well written, imaginative, and gripping all in one.