Aurelia has always valued love and happiness over titles and power. Though her kind-hearted father has allowed her to turn away suitor after suitor in pursuit of a love she cannot yet define, when he dies her choices die with him. Knowing that marrying the elderly governor of a neighboring province can secure her mentally challenged brother’s safety, she gives up on her dream of finding love in return for his protection.Cassius is the ill-fated captain of the governor’s guard tasked with escorting the Lady Aurelia and her unpleasant aunt to the governor’s estate. Since the soothsayer Tullia foretold an early death for him, Cassius wants nothing more than to keep his hands busy with labor and his heart free from any connections to the world he believes he will be leaving soon. As they work through a series of misfortunes on the road to the governor’s province, the words of the soothsayer start to make sense, and together they find the courage to allow their true destiny to unfold.
I received this book from the author for the purpose of this review. All comments and opinions are entirely my own.
I pride myself on my insane work ethic at my 9-to-5. Like, all my coworkers and my bosses comment on my productivity levels insane. So the two days I spent reading Soothsayer probably seemed strange to the office — I devoured it without thought to the world around me. No one tell my boss, but I snuck my Kindle under my desk to read while I went through my emails and organized my reports. This novel was refreshingly Austenite in plot, which is to say I knew exactly how it would end within the first few pages, but the journey to get there was beautiful.
I knew this book was a romance going into it, but I was pleasantly surprised to find that the first love story Amurra detailed was that of sibling love. The main character Aurelia’s brother had special needs that, true to its setting in Ancient Rome, went unnamed in the book. Aurelia’s love for her brother drove the plot, as she considered the marriage proposal of a governor who was as old as her late father in order to exempt her brother from mandatory military service. This, in turn, put her on a perilous journey with the governor’s captain Cassius, who so artfully rubbed her the wrong way, like an ancient Roman Mr. Darcy or Mr. Knightly.
And similar to their Austenite heroine counterparts, Aurelia was clever, outspoken, and kind — a perfect role model for readers of all ages, but especially the young adult readers this book seems to be written for. Casiuss’s curt and cold personality balanced her out perfectly, and his doomsday attitude also set the stage for the choose your own destiny theme that the characters explored and that gave the book its title. The characters’ use of familial and romantic love to shape or be trapped by their own destinies kept the story interesting and important. On the topic of romance, there is one content warning: one character did attempt to take advantage of another character physically, though there were no graphic details.
Without giving anything away, I found the ending of the book to be unsatisfactorily hasty. Though I knew how it would end (and was pleased by the outcome), it should have been more elegantly fleshed out, rather than just a few pages in length. My other critique is that Amurra’s use of enslaved characters was insensitive. Though I must praise her for being historically accurate in her use of enslavement, the characterization of the enslaved characters read more as these people are simply unpaid laborers, when in reality enslaved Romans were often treated as property and subjected to horrific physical torture. While I understand that detailing the historically-accurate treatment of enslaved people would not fit in this book, I believe that undermining what they went through can be a dangerous thing to teach readers. Even just including a paragraph before the novel to explain what really happened to enslaved people could have been more helpfully educational.