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An Alternate First Century Rome - an Editorial Review of "Signum"

Book Blurb:

SIGNUM: ONE MAN. ONE MISSION. THE FATE OF AN EMPIRE. First instalment of the compelling new fantasy adventure series (The Serpents of Caesar Book 1)

In an alternate first century Rome, treachery casts a long shadow…

When Praetorian Guard Verendus answers a plea to return home, he finds a new military unit – the Watch – terrorising the island of Iolia. The Watch signum is a strange symbol he encountered years ago and hundreds of miles away on a barbarian battleground.

Suspecting treachery behind the turmoil, Verendus embarks on an unauthorised mission to convey a sealed box from the island’s temple to the mainland. As he flees from the Watch, he crosses the path of a runaway handmaid with a deadly secret and an unwelcome curiosity about the mission. Her knowledge of temple rites could prove useful. But can he trust her?

As his suspicions mount that the ascendance of the Watch and the signum’s presence in Iolia are more than coincidence, Verendus fears he is out of his depth. Is he risking his life to deliver evidence of a conspiracy? Or is there something more sinister inside the box?

Signum is the first instalment of the historical fantasy series: The Serpents of Caesar. The Roman Empire, but not as we know it…

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Author Bio:

Thea Burgess is the author of The Serpents of Caesar historical fantasy series set in an alternate first century Europe – the Roman Empire, but not as we know it. Signum, the first novel in the series, features Praetorian Guard cartographer Verendus as he embarks on a perilous – and unauthorised – mission.

Thea also writes short stories with a Roman theme and has twice been long-listed for the Historical Writers’ Association, Dorothy Dunnett Short Story Award. In addition to researching and writing about Ancient Rome, Thea enjoys reading art history books. Unlike protagonist Verendus, Thea isn't very good at drawing.

Visit to join the Verendus Readers Club and receive a free prequel story to The Serpents of Caesar series.

Editorial Review:

Signum: The Serpents of Caesar by T. R. Burgess is a historical fiction book that presents an alternative history of the Roman Empire in the city and empire of Rema, founded by Remulus rather than Romulus. In this alternative retelling, Ericus Vedius Verendus, a member of the military, arrives back at his home of Iolia to find another military unit with a strange signum wreaking havoc on the island. Known as the Watch, Verendus is unsure where this military unit came from and who is behind their actions. Becoming increasingly suspicious of the Watch, Verendus flees that area and encounters someone with a secret that will propel him into a mission he wasn’t prepared for. Signum: The Serpents of Caesar is full of fast-paced action, well-researched historical elements and amazing characters that will grab onto the reader’s attention and not let go until the very end.

All those cold nights in Germania he had pictured this moment, had sometimes doubted it would come. Its promise fortified his waking hours; its lustre coloured his dreams, the scene so vivid he could smell the red grapes ripening.”

It is clear that the author has completed extensive research on the ancient Roman Empire and used that research to incorporate historical elements and events throughout the book in the fictional empire of Rema. Burgess even cites her research in a bibliography that is located in the back of the book. Including this bibliography definitely makes the readers build even more trust in the author. This research really makes Signum: The Serpents of Caesar an excellent book of historical fiction even though it is still considering an alternate history through the setting of the story. The history of Rema in this book is essentially that of Rome just reimagined and with different geographical locations. Fans of Roman history will love it. In addition to the historical events that are referenced within the novel, other evidence of the author’s extensive research is the way the mannerisms, behavior, and even the lives of the characters are portrayed. The author seems to maintain all of these things in a way that is true to what historians have identified life in the ancient Roman Empire to have been like. The setting, events, and characters are accurate to the time period the book is set in.

No, it was fantasy. The likelihood of such a relic existing was tiny. Besides, he was here to collect a box – a box that contained evidence of a conspiracy against the emperor. ”

The novel is also extremely well edited and proofread. There are no grammatical, mechanical, or spelling errors in the novel. The writing is also well done. It flows nicely with excellent pacing that most readers can follow fairly easily. Burgess’ writing is more formal at times so readers who are not frequent readers of this sort of writing style may find it more difficult to follow. The author’s real talent seems to be character development. Each of the characters in Signum: The Serpents of Caesar are developed in a way that they appeal to the readers. Even if the character’s experience is not something that a reader might be familiar with, Burgess is still able to write the characters in a way that the reader’s emotions are invoked. In addition to fantastic character development, Burgess’ use of imagery also makes both the settings and the action of the novel really come to life for the readers.

Corinna gritted her teeth, forced herself to move, inching back from the blood-smeared blade. She groped in the dirt for another stone, for something, anything. Even as she closed her hand about one, the Praetorian lifted her hood with the tip of the blade.”

The likely intended audience for this novel are those that enjoy historical fiction as well as those interested in historical fantasy or alternative history. Roman history fans will also adore the historical elements in this book. The extensiveness of this history of Rome and real history mixed with alternative history might prove to be a bit overwhelming for new historical fiction readers. The mature writing style may also often make it a more difficult book to read for younger readers or more inexperienced readers. Another quality of Signum: The Serpents of Caesar that could possibly be a detriment to some readers is the size of the book. It is quite a lengthy book which many casual readers tend to steer away from.

The dining hall was a cavernous vault of grey stone furnished with deep fireplaces, faded tapestries, and an open gallery of exceptional artistry decorated with cornucopian swags of carved fruit and flowers that stretched the full width of the south wall. Gilded arches spanned a ceiling ripe with chandeliers that bathed the room in candlelight.”

The book has lots of characters and information. It can often be hard for readers to keep all the characters straight especially when the names are sometimes lengthy and written in a Roman style that is most likely unfamiliar to many readers. The author clearly anticipated this because a character list as well as a glossary is included in the back of the book. The descriptions of the characters provide both context and background around each one. It is an excellent reference source for the reader as they enjoy the novel. A glossary of terms relevant to the story is also included. Readers will appreciate the ability to quickly identify what a content specific word means. Another important inclusion is the afterword at the end of the book. In this section of the book, the author does an excellent job reconciling the true historical elements with how those elements are presented within the novel. This is an excellent inclusion and will be highly beneficial for readers not familiar with Roman history.

The stars were aligning. Soon Fate’s wings would touch her a final time and the Seer’s third feather would appear. The feather that foretold break. When it came, she must not be daunted. It would be a sign to break free from all that bound her.”

All in all, Signum: The Serpents of Caesar by T. R. Burgess is an incredibly imaginative look at an alternative history to the Roman Empire. Combined with elements of historical fantasy, the alternative history is both engaging and informative. Historical fiction fans will appreciate the author’s ability to weave a well-known history into a fresh and exhilarating fictional story. Excellent writing and impeccable research combine perfectly to earn this book a five out five rating. As the first book of a forthcoming series, Signum: The Serpents of Caesar is a must-read that will leave its audience eager for the second book.


“Signum: The Serpents of Caesar” by T. R. Burgess receives five stars and the “Highly Recommended” award of excellence from The Historical Fiction Company



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