Women named Julia are stronger than they appear. Don’t let your little brother make out with silver-eyed blondes. Immortal heroes really don’t fancy teenage girls. When love dies, there’s still opera. Family is everything. Monsters are everywhere. Yes, you do have to wear the damned toga.
History is not what you think it is.
Love and Romapunk is a collection of four short stories by Australian author Tansy Rayner Roberts, published by Twelfth Planet Press, a small press that has produced impressive work so far, including the excellent Kaleidoscope anthology and the short story collection Glitter Rose by Marianne de Pierres.
This collection opens with “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary”, an A-to-Z family history of Ancient Rome’s most powerful family, the Caesars, as written by Julia Agrippina (who, amongst other things was Emperor’s Caligula’s sister and Emperor’s Nero’s mother). In it, the underlying theme that connects all four stories is setup: The Julias of Ancient Rome and their descendants are powerful women who fight the monsters that attack their family (and sometimes even the monsters within their own midst). This first story is as humorous and self-aware as it is tragic, Julia Agrippina’s narrative voice, a delectable morsel as she tells of her family’s badassery and fighting skills.
Next, “Lamia Victoriana” follows two sisters—Fanny and Mary Wollstonecraft—who become entangled with an unnamed poet and his sister. Fanny narrates this story and the focus in on her romantic relationship with the poet’s sister. It’s a gothic/horror story loosely tied to the previous one through the monstrous lamias and their vampiric nature. Although it’s called a “Victoriana” story, my nit-picking nature will tell you that actually, it’s not, because the story is set before 1837 (when the Victorian Era effectively started). Alas, one small misstep that bothered me only a little.
“The Patrician” is set sometime in the near future, where, in the bushes of the Australian outback, a new-Roman town is a tourist trap that attracts visitors from all over the world as well as the creatures that the Julias have been trying to extinguish for centuries. A young teenage girl named Clea meets a stranger and together they embark on a friendship that lasts a lifetime. I loved the side of romance in this story and the fact that Clea has adventures as she grows up and older.
The collection closes with the romanpunk story of the title, “Last of the Romanpunks.” Further in the future, a man comes across his heritage in a surprising way when he boards his ex-girlfriend’s old roman-themed dirigible. Here, the collection comes full circle as we once again meet Julia Agrippina—only not as you’d expect.
Love, family, heritage and monstrosity are deftly explored in what is the literary equivalent of eating your favorite box of chocolates or binge-watching a favorite TV show (omg, I am binge-watching Leverage right now and how did I manage to miss that show when it was on?): delicious and self-indulgent and So. Much. Fun.
Or in Book Smugglerish: 8 out of 10.