Love and Romanpunk

Love and Romanpunk - Tansy Rayner RobertsIndependent publishers have many disadvantages compared with their bigger brethren, but one thing that they can always compete on is quality of writing. Often that’s down to finding a really good author, and Twelfth Planet press has done very well in that respect. Possibly uniquely, however, they also have really good blurbs. I took my copy of Tansy Rayner Roberts’ Love and Romanpunk to the Write Fantastic event in Oxford in May and encouraged people to read the back cover blurb. They all thought it sounded like a really fun read. But of course the book is published in Australia, and the cost of getting a little chapbook to the UK is enough to put most people off. Now, at last, I have it available as an ebook, and you can all buy it cheaply. You can also read the blurb. It is here. But perhaps you would like me to review the book first?

The Twelve Planets series is a set of chapbooks showcasing some of the finest Australian short story writers. Tansy’s book contains four stories all connected to ancient Rome. The Romans have had a pretty raw deal as far as fantasy fiction goes. Gene Wolfe’s Latro might be a proto-Roman, but the general view has been that Rome is that start of the modern world. It is OK to write Roman novels about politics or crime, but if any magic takes place then it does so off on the barbarian fringes of the Empire in places such as Britain. Tansy is having nothing of this. She’s a fantasy writer, and she has a PhD in Roman history. Surely the two must meet?

So the first story is “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Beastiary”. Who is this Julia, you ask? Well, she was the great-granddaughter of the Emperor Augustus, so very much a Caesar. She was the sister of Caligula, she married Claudius (whom she is suspected of killing with poison), and she was the mother of Nero (who eventually managed to have her murdered at the second attempt). That’s some resume. How did she manage it all? Tansy explains. Apparently it involved an awful lot of monsters, by no means all of them human. The story is told with wonderful dry wit, and from it comes the idea of Julia’s descendents down the ages protecting the world from monsters.

In “Lamia Victoriana” we encounter two sisters, Mary and Frances, who discover that pale poets are much more dangerous than they look. In “The Patrician” we arrive in a near future Australia where a Roman recreation theme park becomes a focus for the last of the monsters. And finally, in “Last of the Romanpunks”, we are aboard an airship when we discover that no evil is too great for some idiot not to want to try to harness it. The same dry wit runs through all of the stories, and the plots have a little in common with gorgon hair: they twist around and can bite you unexpectedly.

I very much like Tansy’s writing, and very little of her fiction is easily available outside of Australia. Love and Romanpunk is an excellent introduction. Try it. (Or the lamia may get you.)

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