REVIEW:  The Raven and the Rose by Doreen Owens Malek

REVIEW: The Raven and the Rose by Doreen Owens Malek

Dear Ms Owens Malek,

Are you still writing? I hope so but haven’t seen anything new from you in ages. You’ve got me worried. I guess until I learn otherwise, I’ll have to just keep re-reading your OOP books.

This is a dual ‘against all odds’ romance. Two sisters love men who are completely forbidden to them. Julia Rosalba Casca was dedicated as a Vestal Virgin on her 10th birthday by her power greedy grandfather. She’s now 17 and resigned to her fate until the day she helps the Chief Vestal make alterations to Julius Caesar’s will and sees the handsome Centurion with him. Marcus Corvin Demeter feels like Jove’s thunderbolt smacked him down when he sees Julia and knows he has to meet her again. But romantically pursuing a Vestal will lead to death, both for him and, in a more horrible way, for her for betraying the sacred trust of the Roman people.

With the help of her sister Larthia, the two begin to secretly meet. But this isn’t the only thing that Larthia is up to. Fearing that his widowed granddaughter could become the target of assassins due to his political opposition to Caesar, Decimus Gnaeus Casca has bought a slave to guard her whether she wants it or not. And she definitely does not. At first. Verrix is a nephew of the defeated hero of the Gauls, Vercingetorix. He’s escaped more than once and was sentenced to crucifixion for killing a Roman officer during one of them. But if he can keep this spoiled, willful widow alive for three years, then he will be set free. And he’s determined to be set free. What neither of them can control are their growing feelings for each other.

But political events are spiraling out of control and the Ides of March are fast approaching. Marcus feels he can’t abandon Caesar now with the general’s enemies circling around him and Verrix knows that Larthia could end up paying the price for the ambitions of her grandfather. On March 15th, 44 BC, everything goes to hell in a handcart and both sets of lovers have to survive not only the riots in Rome but also the revelations of their forbidden love.

Julia and Larthia are both very strong and strong-willed women. Both have been handed the short end of the romance stick and both are determined to finally have the love that they’ve been denied so far. Neither of them chose the lives they’ve lead so far and neither of them feel any loyalty to decisions that were forced on them by the men in their family. Marcus and Verrix are amazed at the love they feel for the sisters but unable to resist its pull. Both know it’s madness but once Venus strikes, what are you going to do?

This book just misses being an A read for me. You do a pretty good job of interweaving the facts of daily life in Rome, the Army, the Vestals, and the politics of the time into the story but there were a few awkward passages. These, however, were countered by the usual dry, sardonic comic style that I love in your books. I did have a problem with one aspect of Marcus and Julia’s relationship but will only say that Marcus should have known better. Verrix and Larthia were a scream to watch circling each other like bristling cats even as they slowly fell in love. It has some great secondary characters, especially Septimus, a friend of Marcus who watches his friend’s growing relationship with horror then is appalled to find himself drawn into it as well. This one isn’t for everyone but for me it is a strong B+.

~Jayne