Call to Juno is the third in Elisabeth Storrs’ series set in both in the Etruscan city of Veii and ancient Rome. The opening book built an unlikely love story between Roman Caecilia and the Etruscan warrior Vel Mastarna. They were forced into a marriage to build an uneasy peace between their cities, but now in the third book, that peace is long gone. The compelling love story between a man and woman has expanded to the children and extended family they share and the heavy responsibilities as rulers of a Veii under siege that they carry together.
Over the course of this series Storrs builds a vivid picture of the beauty and grace of the Etruscan world—which we know will crumble eventually under Rome’s mighty hand. That ephemeral quality of this exquisite place and time enriches the emotional resonance of the complex bonds and loves that Storrs brings to life. Even the scornful Romans who view the Etruscans as degenerate and effete stop in amazement when they enter Veii and see how much grander and elegant it is than their own capital of Rome. What would our world today be like if the Etruscans, not the Romans had prevailed? Perhaps far more beautiful and gracious.
Storrs intrigues her reader with details about things like an Etruscan lady’s make-up and dress, and she contrasts them with the prim and misogynist Roman standards. Various modern parallels will occur to the reader and this adds depth to the reading experience. Early in Call to Juno Caecilia enters the great temple of Uni in order to placate the goddess. The description of both the goddess and Caecilia gives a good taste of Storrs’ skill in recreating the lost world of the Etruscans:
“Queen Uni towered ten feet high above Caecilia as she knelt before the goddess she’d once worshiped as the Roman Juno. The sculpted face of the terra-cotta statue was serene in the muted sunlight of the sanctum. …A decade of war had taken its toll. The terra-cotta that cladded the columns and roof rafters of the vast temple was cracked, the red and black paint fading…. Despite the negelect of her surrounds the divinity still looked regal. The Veientanes revered her too much to disregard her person. Her goatskin was not tattered, and she wore a diadem and pectoral of gleaming gold. Rings of silver and turquoise bedecked her fingers, and her lapis eyes were deep blue.
Gazing at the divine queen’s apparel made Caecilia conscious of her own. Vel was not the only one who was uncomfortable with donning the purple. Yet she could not deny she enjoyed the feel of her fine woolen chiton, its bodice tight, revealing the curve of her breasts and defining her nipples. Its hem was a solid band of cloth of gold. Beads of amethyst and pearl encrusted her heavy purple mantle. She knew her father would hate to see her this way, dressed flagrantly instead of garbed in the modest stola of a Roman matron, wearing a crown instead of covering her head with a palla shawl.”
Another of the strengths of this final book in this strong series is the emotional force Storrs develops not only in the Vel and Caecilia relationship but in a wide palette of characters. When things go right we are celebrating with a lot of joyous people. When they go wrong, we are watching a range of relationships in jeopardy and we are totally invested in them. The betrayals and the unshakeable loyalties will surprise and engage you.
As in the previous books, Storrs narrates from both the Roman and Etruscan point of view. Our sympathies for the Romans are growing more tenuous, although even there Storrs shows some characters transcending expectations. We can understand the concerns of various individuals among the Roman cast and we are well aware the Etruscans would happily destroy Rome if they could, but still, the scales begin to tip decidedly for the Etruscan characters and for the way of life that they have embraced. We want delight in pleasure and the goodness of graceful abundance to win out over stern Roman duty and delight in war. There is plenty to think about as you finish this book. And plenty to feel enriched by. In the meanwhile, you’ve been drawn along by an entertaining epic. Call to Juno is a book for long, delicious savoring.