McDougall, Sophia. Romanitas. London: Orion, 2006. 607pp.
This is a perfect example of a novel where the execution doesn't live up to the idea. Oh, the book isn't terrible. It's just not anywhere near as good as it could (should?) have been. The premise is quite interesting: what if the Roman Empire didn't decline and fall and survived into the present day, with institutions such as the emperor and slavery intact? The plot built around this setting is also interesting: what if the presumptive heir to the throne favours abolishing slavery and is assassinated, making it look like an accident? What will happen when the new heir, that person's son, also has an attempt on his life and flees with a bunch of escaped slaves to a secret escaped slave hidaway, from which to plan a return to Rome and rescue by the emperor? Lots of potential here, but sadly the novel never really takes off. Too much shuffling around without much actually happening; at 575 pages of story, the book is at least 100 pages too long.
In any case, this is a first novel, and McDougall does show promise. I'll very likely end up giving the second volume a chance one of these days.