Can the Roma Nova thrillers be considered romantic?

“I hate romantic fiction – I wouldn’t let my wife read it!” This was how one over-excited male member(!) of a writing group greeted my first pages of INCEPTIO where the heroine meets the hero.

A real gladius point through my neck, but I toughed up like a true Roman and politely pointed out that almost every novel had an emotional relationship in it – what a poor piece it would be without it.

“Rubbish!” he expostulated (Sorry, too tempting, but he did spit in a minor way.) and started to grab books off his shelf of popular thrillers. His face fell as he read the blurbs. Even the grittiest Karin Slaughter or toughest of Ian Rankin’s Rebus betrayed him. He was left chagrined and furious. I smiled in the most condescending way I could muster and was comforted by the faces of the rest of the group members ‘shocked and stunned’ by the attack.

You know I write thrillers featuring tough Praetorian special forces heroines; there are fights, chases, conspiracies and harsh decisions all mixed up with Roman values and a strong sense of survival. But INCEPTIO, CARINA, PERFIDITAS and SUCCESSIO are bound together by the epic love story of Carina and Conrad. Over fifteen years we see attraction, lust, love, betrayal, joy, reconciliation, misunderstanding, broken hearts, envy, jealousy, enduring love, anguish, reconciliation – heart-stopping emotion all the way.

Aurelia has a much rockier time romantically, but she and the mysterious, elusive Miklós are bound together through war and revolution in AURELIA, NEXUS, INSURRECTIO and RETALIO.


Quite a number of the stories in the new collection ROMA NOVA EXTRA are nothing but romances, although still in the robust Roman tradition, so you have the best of both worlds!

When I set out to write JULIA PRIMA, I knew it had to be strongly romantic as it was the story of the meeting of the two who would begin the dynasty that went on to found Roma Nova – Julia Bacausa and Lucius Apulius. But it was firmly entrenched in the Roman society of the late 4th century.

We may like to consider ourselves sentient, logical beings, but who’s kidding whom?

Emotion rules us, especially rude men who know stuff all about writing. Our prime reaction when meeting people is emotional; that’s what the famous ‘gut feeling’ is. Then we sit back and allow our logical brain in.

We value friendship, family love, emotional love and enduring love very highly – that’s what makes us people rather than a walking mass of cells containing 47% water. At this time of the year we become soppy and pink, true, but behind the commercial tinsel lies a fundamental human requirement and expression of life.

As in the real world, human relationships are at the heart of the books’ characters’ actions; they drive the plot. Carina and Conrad’s sparky rock-strewn path in INCEPTIO, her dilemma in PERFIDITAS and Conrad’s in SUCCESSIO wouldn’t be anywhere near as gripping for readers if there was no fundamental emotional connection. And even I had to ask how I would resolve Aurelia and Miklós’s relationship until the end of RETALIO!

And if they don’t care about each other, why should we care about them?

Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO, CARINA (novella), PERFIDITAS, SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA, NEXUS (novella), INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO,  and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. Double Identity, a contemporary conspiracy, starts a new series of thrillers. JULIA PRIMA,  Roma Nova story set in the late 4th century, starts the Foundation stories. The sequel, EXSILIUM, will be out on 27 February 2024.

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19 comments to Can the Roma Nova thrillers be considered romantic?

  • Couldn’t have said it better myself, Alison. So pleased you put that male ‘member’ in his place 🙂

    • Alison

      Well, I was taken aback when he condemned the whole genre in one breath!

    • ‘Wouldn’t *let* his wife read them’ – what century is he living in? You did well not to slap him for that.

    • Ginny Stokes-Young

      It’s typical of men to look down their noses at “romance” novels, but all of life is due to love or the animal equivalent of love!

      Every book I’ve ever read, from Zane Grey to Louis l’Lamour, to Robert Heinlein, Ludlum, Nora Roberts, et al, contain some kind of relationship. Men need to open their eyes and see for themselves.

      • Alison

        I think it’s misunderstanding, Ginny, which we can cope with and hopefully show though our work that love and romance aren’t all pink tinsel, but strong, positive and essential life forces. But this person was so rude! I think he must have had psychological problems.

    • Je suis totalement d’accord – mais Conrad et Carina ils me manquent 🙂 Had to tweet!

      • Alison

        Doing my best, Anna! Book 5 just went to the publisher and Book 6 is a third drafted. Then I may revisit Carina and Conrad. 😉

  • Hi Alison. I enjoyed your latest article immensely! Agree completely with Fenella. I couldn’t have said it better myself. Where HAS he been reading? Unbelievable!

    • Alison

      I wonder if he’s read books without realising that they did have these relationships in them and that he accepted subconsciously as being normal. But it was an interesting conversation…

  • Jon

    Just so you know – and I’m sure you do – there are male readers who read books that are heavy on “relationships” all the time. I’m one. I’ve read and really enjoyed all four of your books. I don’t remember if I even added a “romance” tag to them; whether or not I did, any reader who likes fiction, historical fiction, alternative histories, military, suspense, spy, “women’s fiction” (I’m still trying to figure that one out) or, heck, romance should try them. Feminist? Sure, why not. Progressive, definitely. On the other hand, I wouldn’t call them bodice rippers or chick-lit or westerns.

    • Alison

      I do know, Jon. You are one of my most treasured readers. I’m married to a man who has a far higher emotional intelligence quotient than I do. He doesn’t read romance, but is brilliant at reading people’s feelings.

      Carina and Conrad’s relationship is set in a different society from ours, but they are still human beings, tough as they are. And they do fall in love and endure the agonies and joys any relationship that characterises any relationship.

      Some of my colleagues in the Romantic Novelists’ Association do write bodice-rippers and chicklit – these are not for me 😉 – but they have many readers.

      Books are sometimes so difficult to categorise as writers and readers enjoy exploring something different from the rather old-fashioned pigeon-holes books used to be shelved in. Yes, ‘women’s fiction’ – that’s one I struggle with, too. I feel both readers and writers are starting to think that belongs in a pre-1970s world. But that’s a whole other argument!

      • Great article, Alison and I quite agree.
        I find it can be women too who look down on anything tagged romance – I had to explain this to a friend of mine recently. I do get bored when they assume, and I quote, ‘romance is all pink and fluffy’. Just going on from your reply to Jon about book being difficult to categorise, I write suspense/adventure/crime all with a romantic element and all centred around relationships, whether it’s the cause of the suspense or the result of the suspense, it’s always there.

        • Alison

          Absolutely, Sue. Just as in real life, romance and love are an integral part of any character’s story. I’m not a ‘pink tinsel’ person 😉 but I know relationships are vital however they are expressed even in the tightest thriller with massive plot twists. As you say, which drives which? I still don’t know exactly what was going on in Carina’s head when she made her choice in PERFIDITAS…

  • A really interesting post, Alison – and I couldn’t agree more. Even though I write hopelessly romantic novels, I love reading a wide range of genres and all of them are, at heart, about relationships, whether it be horror, crime, thriller or fantasy. As you so rightly say, if the characters in a novel don’t care about each other, why should the reader?

    • Alison

      Ah, I hope romance is never hopeless, Ellie! 😉 I love the fact that we can be part of a genre that has sweet heroines as well as gun-toting ones. And despite the notoriety and mechanical details, 50 Shades was basically about a relationship.

  • Margaret Morton Kirk

    Character drives plot, in my view, and real characters do have relationships. Personally I don’t enjoy books in which the plot is just a vehicle for getting the protagonists together, but chacun a son gout (sorry can’t work out circumflexs and grave accents on an iPad). But no-one could accuse the Roma Nova novels of this!