Review: Via Serica

I’d picked up Via Serica, Tom Rogneby’s latest, without a clear idea of what it was about. I don’t usually do that, but I was in a hurry, Dorothy Grant had just shared a link, and I’d really liked his Minivandians tales. So I grabbed it and went on with whatever I was doing that day. I was probably also influenced by the SPQR on the cover – one of my favorite commentors… Long story, sorry, that’s an injoke. via serica

Via Serica is not, I feel I must say at the beginning, a fantasy book. While there is a small fantastic element, it’s never clear if it really happened, or was a drug-and-trauma induced hallucination. What this book is, is a darn good historical. Unlike many historical novels, which tend to retain all the flavor of the dry and dusty tomes their authors read while researching, Via Serica brings the ancient Romans, Greeks, Egyptians, and more to life. The main characters live, breath, eat, and screw up regularly just like, well, real people would have back then. They react like men of their times, as well. A public flogging early in the book is taken – not in stride, but certainly not with horror and pearl-clutching on the part of the characters. Later in the book, the main character – the nominal hero of the book – buys a slave, and then refuses to manumit him because the man will be useful to him. Whether these are things that readers want to read about, or not, they were part of the reality of the times, and I appreciated the author’s refusal to apply 21st century mores to a Roman society.

This is, I am hoping, the beginning of a series, since the journey the Roman senator has been sent on, in lieu of his own execution, is barely begun at the end of the book. The road to where silk comes from… via Egypt, the Indian subcontinent, and the vast unknown for this man, and his Thracian troop of armed bodyguards drawn from the Third Cyranean Legion. But don’t worry – this one is worth reading for the adventures and for the characters. There are pirates, and the ghost of Cleopatra, and fighting, and… it’s a fun read, while still being food for the brain. I was reminded of a childhood pleasure: GA Henty stories. Tom Rogneby has created living history, and it’s a pleasure to read. I can’t recommend it for children (mature scenes, violence), but a teenager would no doubt enjoy this as an addition to their history texts. Supplemental material like this can create a window back in time, and interest a reader in learning more about that time. Rogneby has even included a helpful bibliography at the end of the book to assist you in that learning quest.

That being said, this is not a period-authentic book, and if the occasional modernism in dialogue bothers you, you’ll want to take a pass, here. The word ‘teenagers’ does appear in some mental dialogue, for instance. It’s in keeping with the rest of the book, as the characters are in a sense translated for easier reading, but I know there are people who can’t abide a casual approach to history. For the rest of us, this is a fun book to read and it won’t put you to sleep while you’re enjoying the tale.



3 responses to “Review: Via Serica”

  1. Bought it! But it will have to wait since I am in the middle of rereading Vulcan’s Kittens.

    1. re-reading… oh be still my beating heart! 😀