by Kathryn Amurra
Soothsayer is set in Ancient Rome and tells the story of Aurelia, who lives with her rather petulant and mercenary Aunt Petronia and mentally disabled brother, Angelus. A visit by the aging Governor Attilius delights Aunt Petronia as he asks for Aurelia’s hand in marriage. Aurelia has absolutely no intention of marrying Attilius but it is made clear that if she does not, then her brother will be left to the mercy of military service for three years in the Emperor’s Army. Aurelia knows that he will be misunderstood, tormented and likely killed if he enters service and, therefore, she agrees to the marriage. However, her accompaniment to the Governor’s residence is his Captain of the Guard, Cassius, a taciturn and, at first appearance, surly young man, who engages only when he has too. A series of misfortunes befall Aurelia and Cassius on their journey to the Governor’s residence which throws them together. Aurelia begins to understand why Cassius is so aloof and Cassius, in turn, understands why Aurelia feels she must marry the Governor. Once in the Governor’s residence and at the mercy of his vile sister, Marcella, Aurelia begins to realise that she really cannot bear to marry the Governor. Aurelia and Cassius must find a way to be together and take care of Angelus yet both feel bound by the Soothsayer’s predictions …
This book is undoubtedly a labour of love; it shines through the characters and the plot. I can feel Kathryn Amurra’s dedication and need to tell Aurelia’s story in every line. I really, really enjoyed it and felt thoroughly immersed into Aurelia’s world; she was a very believable and likeable main character. The opening chapter was cleverly written with just enough hints peppered throughout the paragraphs that all was not as it seemed. At times, the book reminded me a little of a play, nuggets of information were released almost as an aside to the reader and it works – probably because of the setting of Ancient Rome, which is always very present and I could really visualise. The story would not be so strong without it; the placement really complemented it and drew the reader in. Amurra cleverly weaved quite a large proportion of Aurelia’s history into her conversation with the Governor in Chapter 3 and here as throughout, the dialogue is beautifully written; economical, precise, effective but full of emotion.
*** Spoilers in this paragraph**
I did find the book a slow-burner, yet when it took off, I could hardly put it down. I would have liked a little more chemistry between Aurelia and Cassius earlier; the Chapter with them battling through the thorn bushes certainly brings it alive but I would have liked a bit more sizzle a bit earlier! All of the characters were very well-realised; Marcella was deeply unpleasant without veering into pantomime and likewise for Tullia, the Soothsayer. I wondered if the two narratives of a) Cassius leaving home as a young boy, and b) the Governor deciding against marriage, survive close inspection but you were rooting so much for Aurelia that you were just pleased that she did not have to marry the repulsive old Governor and you are kept guessing and page-turning as a result.
I thought this was a beautifully written book that I would not hesitate to recommend losing yourself in; which you will.