BLOG TOUR: Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track by Annelise Gray

It’s my stop on the blog tour for the new title in Circus Maximus series set in Ancient Rome, that has all the right ingredients to create a thrilling adventure! Written by Annelise Gray, published by Zephyr, Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track can be read as a standalone but picks up where the first book, Race to the Death, left the action. In addition to sharing my thoughts about the book, I’m delighted to host a guest post from the author focused on her five favourite women in Roman history.

Circus Maximus: Rivals on the Track by Annelise Gray

Dido is the only girl ever to have raced to victory at the Circus Maximus, Rome’s greatest sporting arena. Now she and her beloved horse, Porcellus, are in hiding, and the Emperor Caligula has put a price on their heads. Can she outwit the Emperor and his bounty hunters?  And will a shocking family secret stop her in her tracks or spur her on to make a daring return to the track, helped by a one-eyed mare with a heart as brave as her own?

Get ready for a heart-stopping adventure that will draw you in to the streets of Ancient Rome and have you cheering for Dido’s victory throughout. Drawing an utterly believable picture of the time period, you can hear the cheers of the crowds, feel the heat of the racetrack and almost see the horses, as Dido enters the stadium once more. Each character is wonderfully portrayed and with adventure and heart on every page, Dido’s story of bravery and determination as she pursues the impossible will keep you hooked. More than this, the weaving narrative builds a plot centred on family, friendship and healing past hurts, with a climatic ending that will have you on the edge of your seat.

I’m really pleased to share a guest post from author Annelise Gray. Welcome to the blog Annelise!

My 5 Favourite Women in Roman History

When I had the idea for a novel about a female charioteer set in ancient Rome, I knew that I would be imagining into existence a character who never existed in history, even though I would love to believe she could have done. Ancient Rome was a man’s world, no two ways about it, and women were expected to play their part in it by being seen a little, and heard not at all. That said, there were women who emerged from the shadows and made their mark on Roman history. Here are five of my favourites.

Cloelia

For the Romans, courage (‘virtus’) was a manly quality. The legendary figure of Cloelia proved an exception to that rule. The story goes that during the sixth century BCE, when the Romans were at war with their Etruscan neighbours, Cloelia was taken hostage but escaped and led her fellow female captives to freedom by swimming across the river Tiber. She was later returned to her captors but their king was so impressed with her bravery that he set her and some other hostages free. In tribute to Cloelia’s courage, the Romans are said to have set up a statue of her on horseback – an honour usually reserved for men. Leila Rasheed has a retelling of Cloelia’s story for children coming out this year – The Bravest Roman Of All  – which I’m really looking forward to as I loved her novel Empire’s End: A Roman Story.

Hortensia

In a world where speaking was a man’s job, Hortensia is remarkable as one of the few women from ancient Rome known and celebrated for her eloquence. She was born in the first century BCE, the daughter of Cicero’s great courtroom rival Quintus Hortensius Hortalus, and she lived through one of the most politically tumultuous periods in Roman history. Two years after the assassination of Julius Caesar in 44BCE, at the height of the campaign against Caesar’s assassins, Hortensia made a speech in the Roman forum in which she argued that women should not be taxed for wars of men’s making.

Caenis

Born a slave and later given her freedom, Caenis’s story – as the novelist Lindsey Davis puts it – is the archetypal ‘secretary to boardroom’ plot. During the 30sCE, she was a loyal attendant of Antonia, the mother of Emperor Claudius. After her mistress’s death, Caenis became a lover of Vespasian, a rising political star who would go on to become emperor in 70CE. Roman law forbade Vespasian to marry a freedwoman and so he chose another bride. But after his wife’s death, and in what some have seen as evidence of an enduring love, Vespasian invited Caenis to live with him and she was said to have been his empress in all but name. Davis’ novel, The Course of Honour, is about the relationship between Vespasian and Caenis.

Boudicca

Better known to some as Boadicea, this British queen of the Roman era is one of history’s great rebels. Her husband, Prasutagus, was a king of the Iceni tribe who co-operated with the Romans after they invaded Britain in 43CE. But when Prasutagus died and Boudicca protested that the Romans had ignored his will, which stipulated that his wife and daughters should inherit half of his possessions, she was publicly flogged and her daughters raped. In response, Boudicca led a coalition of forces against the occupying army, razing several towns to the ground, including Camulodunum (Colchester) which was then the Roman capital of Britain. Although she was eventually defeated, Boudicca’s warrior-queen spirit has never been forgotten and she is commemorated with a famous statue near the Palace of Westminster.

Julia Domna

Born in Syria and dubbed ‘the philosopher empress’ in recognition of her patronage of some of the leading literary, philosophical and scientific figures of her age, Julia Domna is one of the most interesting women in Roman imperial history. Her husband Septimius Severus, who ruled Rome from 193 to 211, was the empire’s first African-born emperor and Julia Domna was said by ancient historians to have a powerful (and generally positive) political influence over him. Sadly, the same couldn’t be said for her relationship with her son Caracalla – a cruel and bloodthirsty emperor very much in the mould of his first century predecessor Caligula (who plays a key role as Dido’s antagonist in my Circus Maximus books.)

Find out more about Circus Maximus and the author at https://www.annelisegray.co.uk/. With thanks to Fritha Lindqvist and Zephyr for sending me this book to review and inviting me to participate in this blog tour. Don’t forget to check out the rest of the tour:

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