Daniel Ottalini’s Steam Empire Chronicles have an obvious appeal to me – writing fellow alternate history based on Rome – so I was quite glad to jump on the prequel novella.
What to expect
A story set in Ottalini’s Steampunk version of the Roman Empire, but a few years before the events of the main novels. It focuses on Lucia Rhodanus Fortem, a woman with a shady past and a strong desire to become a gladiator even as the sport changes forever.
What I liked
I liked the alternate-history that Ottalini constructs, a Roman-flavoured world advanced through the centuries to the technical marvels of Steampunk. It’s at once both familiar and bizarre, the perfect balance.
Though the novella starts focused of Lucia’s main and last battle, that is only half the story. There is much more here than fights alone, and the character’s life advances beyond that famous bout.
What to be aware of
Some of the other characters may be a bit flat (or even ghost-like, without a name), and some of the interactions of the world seem subordinate to the plot (ie. the reactions of people and institutions seem more about serving the story than about realistic social structures).
The ending raises quite a few questions, not quite a cliffhanger but certainly raises eyebrows (and the desire to read more). That is to be expected in a prequel novella.
It’s a quick read, and does a good in job of introducing the world of the main Steam Empire series and Ottalini’s storytelling style. If you like alternate history, steampunk, and the Roman Empire (in any combination), give this a try.