The theme in a book - what in Mercury's name is that?

Mercury (or Hermes in the Greek pantheon of gods) is said to be the inventor of the written alphabet, god of writing/literature, speech, travellers, treaties and dreams amongst other things but is best known as the gods’ messenger. He’s also is the one invoked by thieves and tricksters…

I invoke him on the subject of themes in a book as it’s difficult to talk about the theme in your own book without sounding pretentious. He’s the messenger with a tricky mission. His dual nature brings me back to earth.

What is a ‘theme’ in a book sense?

A theme gives meaning to the story and is seen through the plot and the character’s journey. It’s the essence of what the story is about. Generally not mentioned as such, it bubbles along like an underground river, giving life to the story, but unconsciously. Whether stories are about space adventures, historical conflicts, shoes and shopping, a road trip or an alternative history thriller they are really about human dilemmas.

I don’t always see the theme when I start writing a book, but often it emerges as I go along. At first, when I was drafting INCEPTIO, I didn’t even consider themes – that was for high literature, I thought. I was writing genre thrillers. But I came to realise that every story had an underlying theme, however simple or complex. Some have several. Now, I have a better idea of the possible themes of the Roma Nova thrillers, but I’m still a little hesitant. Here are my thoughts…

INCEPTIO is a thriller featuring Karen who flees to Roma Nova and finds a lover, a family and a role, but the bad guy pursues her. She toughens up in order to confront him. Plenty of excitement, a love story, history, undercover operations, toughness and a bit of humour. But INCEPTIO is really about a ‘stranger in a strange’ land and female empowerment.

CARINA is a shorter adventure, a mission abroad for a relatively inexperienced Praetorian officer to reinstate herself after a silly stunt. But underneath is the urge to bring the ungodly to justice, whoever they may be, and acceptance of the realities of political life.

PERFIDITAS is a caper story, good guys vs. bad guys, ‘good’ criminals and ‘bad’ law officers, rescues, undercover and off-piste actions and big shocks. But its theme is betrayal – personal, professional and political – and loyalty. Who is the betrayer and who the betrayed?

SUCCESSIO is darker with threats of blackmail, mental breakdown, family betrayals with of course plenty of action and excitement. But its themes are about unresolved problems rooted in childhood and their fallout, and the roles of love and courage

AURELIA investigates silver smugglers in Berlin, then Roma Nova. She is framed for murder, and horrified when her child is threatened. An assassin tries to terminate her, she experiences family sadness and a new love. But AURELIA is really about the conflict of duty and mother love, personal doubt and a bitter personal rivalry.

In INSURRECTIO, Aurelia tries to stop Caius Tells and his political thugs taking over the country. Plenty of confrontations pile on each other, revolution, escapes, chases, betrayals, etc. But intrinsically, INSURRECTIO is about rational vs. irrational, tyranny vs. consensus, weakness vs. strength and loyalty under immense stress.

RETALIO is the story of a group of Roma Novan exiles struggling to mount a credible and effective force to take back their occupied country. There’s plenty of personal conflict, undercover operations, planning for liberation and courageous acts as well as betrayals. But running through RETALIO are the themes of resilience, resistance and  the struggle for liberation and retribution.

Well, these are my thoughts. Do you agree?



Alison Morton is the author of Roma Nova thrillers –  INCEPTIO,  PERFIDITAS,  SUCCESSIO,  AURELIA,  INSURRECTIO  and RETALIO.  CARINA, a novella, and ROMA NOVA EXTRA, a collection of short stories, are now available.  Audiobooks are available for four of the series. NEXUS, an Aurelia Mitela novella, will be out on 12 September 2019.

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1 comment to The theme in a book – what in Mercury’s name is that?

  • Richard Tearle

    Very interesting, Alison. Almost a ‘chicken and egg’ situation – were the themes lying in the subconscious (the underground river) or did you just write without thought of following a theme? When did the ‘lightbulb’ moment come and how will affect future no vels by you?