Author Archives: Sandra Schwab

The Centurion’s Choice & Roman Board Games

a teaser image for The Centurion's ChoiceIf you’ve read any of my Roman novels, you know that at some point or another, my characters play latrunculi, an extremely Roman board game for two. It was a strategy game, where the aim was to capture the other player’s counters. In EAGLE’S HONOR: BANISHED, Marcus teaches Lia the game, and I imagined they would give the love for this game to future generations of their family. Indeed, I was reminded of my own grandmother, who was a keen player of board games and particularly loved Malefiz, which we often played together.

And so it wasn’t hard to imagine Lia playing latrunculi with her grandchildren. One of them you’ll meet in THE CENTURION’S CHOICE, which will come out next month (I hope). Actually, you might already met him, namely, if you’ve read EAGLE’S HONOR: RAVISHED. THE CENTURION’S CHOICE is the story of Caius Florius Corvus and his partner, Lucius Satrius (yes, this is going to be my very first m/m story) and is set during the Marcomannic Wars ten years before the events in EAGLE’S HONOR: RAVISHED.

Caius is the new centurion in one of the auxiliary cohorts stationed along the border formed by the river Danube. Lucius is his optio, his second-in-command – and they don’t really trust each other at the beginning. It takes a few false turns until their mistrust turns to friendships (and eventually to more). And latrunculi plays a special role for their growing friendship.

In the following snippet, they play for the very first time. I hope you’ll enjoy it! (It’s raw & still unedited.)

One evening in early summer after Lucius had delivered his daily report in the centurion’s tent and was just about to turn to go, Florius looked up and said casually, “Say, optio, do you play latrunculi?”

Lucius halted. “Certainly.” His mouth stretched into a grin. “Who doesn’t?”

The centurion’s brows went up. “Then let me rephrase that: Do you play it well?”

With a shrug, Lucius crossed his arms in front of his chest. “Well enough, I guess.”

His nonchalance earned him a scowl. “Quite sure of yourself, aren’t you?” Florius growled. “Do you fancy a game?”

And before he could change his mind, Lucius said, “Why not? Shall I fetch my counters?”

“And bring your cup. No use playing with a dry throat. I have some mulsum left that wants drinking.”

And so Lucius went and fetched his cup and his game counters and soon found himself sitting in the centurion’s tent, facing Florius over a battered leather gaming board on the stool between them.

“I hope you’re a good player, optio,” Florius said, filling Lucius’ cup.

“Do you mean to tell me I ought to be afraid?” Lucius inquired mildly, and didn’t quite manage to suppress a grin.

For a moment the centurion’s gaze appeared to rest on Lucius’ twitching lips, but then Florius’ eyes flicked up, and he raised his brows. “Very.” He gave Lucius the cup. “It’s only fair that I warn you.”

“Is it?” It was a bit of an effort to keep his voice steady and ignore the tingle at the base of his spine. Surely he had only imagined that look. And if he hadn’t…

Well, it didn’t mean anything.

And he would not dwell on how he had thought the Roman centurion quite fuckable at his first glance of him.

And—Gods!—that time in the baths…

Lucius quickly ducked his head and busied himself with sorting his gaming pieces. He had spotted them at a shop in the vicus of Cuccium several years ago and had not been able to resist the beauty of those sea-green glass pieces. The ordinari were slightly larger than the vagi, which had deep blue swirls run through them. The same kind of swirls ran through the body of the bellator, which rose proudly above all the other pieces.

“Of course, it’s only fair,” Florius said. “Everybody in my family is a fierce player.” And after a small pause, “My grandmother Lia taught me the game while I was a little lad.” The centurion spread his own pieces, all made of smooth polished black stone, with the ordinari bearing red markings. “She was an extraordinary woman,” Florius murmured, then gave himself a little shake before he looked up to meet Lucius’ gaze. “Shall we begin?”

“By all means.” It took a little effort to keep his voice light. What a strange man Florius was! Such a grumpy sod on the one hand, but on the other, a man who thought with obvious fondness of his grandmother.

The centurion raised his cup with wine. “Bene te—and may the better man win.”

Bene te.”

They both drank and then threw a coin to determine who would be given the first move. Soon, they were deeply engrossed in their game, plotting and scheming to catch each other’s pieces. They were both well-matched, moving their pieces with similar skill and expertise.

“You think this is a wise move, optio? You’re leading your bellator into danger here.”

“Ahhh, you think it might be risky?” Lucius hid his grin behind his cup.

“It’s a damn foolish move, if you ask me.”

Lucius’ grin widened. “Och, don’t worry about me, centurion. I’m a big lad.”

The other man snorted.

And a few heartbeats later, “What…? Oh, damn you, optio, you sneaky bastard. You are good.”

Lucius just grinned and sipped his wine and continued to catch Florius’ pieces.

All of them.

The Illustrated London News

Victorian Life: The Joys of Primary Material

pictures of a large package with a book inside

Look what was waiting for me when I returned home yesterday evening!

There is something extremely satisfying about about receiving a large package containing a book (or more). The pleasure is even intensified when you’re a bit… eh… crazy about Victorian life & culture and you know that the book inside said package is a volume of a Victorian newspaper. In a recent blog post, Koenraad Claes draws attention to the importance of considering the material aspects of newspapers and magazines when studying Victorian periodicals. Thus, size, for example, is of great importance:

When you read the magazine in its excellent digitization by Adam Matthew Digital, it will of course always be as large as your screen. From this you cannot gauge how large or small this periodical actually was, and this is one of those rare cases where size does matter, because it not only affects the production costs, but also makes the magazine either look like its competitors or stand out amongst them.

But apart from such important considerations of the material side of Victorian periodicals, there is also the sheer joy and pleasure of leafing through a physical copy and studying the articles and ads and illustrations. When you’re working with digitized texts, you’re typically searching for specific things and only rarely do you look at an issue as a whole. When you’re leafing through a physical copy, by contrast, you get a much clearer picture of the curious conglomeration of various different topics that can be found in a large number of Victorian periodicals, especially those that are of a more general nature like the Illustrated London News.

The Illustrated London NewsThe aforementioned large package that was waiting for me when I returned home yesterday, contained a copy of the ILN from 1848, and as always I was enchanted when I leafed through the volume for the first time. The newspaper not only covered news from home and abroad…

"The Epitome of News"…London news…

20151125_084154…news about the Queen and the royal family…

"Court and Haut Ton"…theatre news, and information about the weather, the stock exchange, corn prices, etc., but it also contained sheet music, articles (and illustrations!) on design (see the little tea pot and candy spoon above), fashion plates…

Paris fashion for February 1848…puzzles and chess problems…

A chess problem…and even embroidery patterns (!!!).

embroidery pattern
But, of course, since this is 1848, the year of the revolutions in Europe, a lot of articles in the volume deal with the revolutions in France…

barricades in Paris

Barricades in Paris

…and Germany.

Barricades in Berlin

Barricades in Berlin

And I was tickled pink to find at the very end of the volume a picture of St. Paul’s in Frankfurt (my home town!), where the first German parliament met in 1848. 🙂

St. Paul's in Frankfurt

Victorian Life: At Home with the Authors: Samuel Rogers

Victorian Life: At home with Samuel Rogers
If you think that only people of the 20th and 21st centuries are interested in celebrity news, think again. Not only did Victorian periodicals include news about the day-to-day life of the royal family, but “At Home with” articles also became rather popular. In 1860, The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine ran a series of articles called “Poets: Their Lives, Songs, and Homes”, which were accompanied by pictures of said homes. I was quite thrilled to find one article about Samuel Rogers, a member of the old Holland House circle which I researched for The Lily Brand. By now, Rogers’ work is more or less forgotten, but at the time of his life, he was well known (at least in London circles), though perhaps not necessary for his poetry as becomes clear in the following snippet from the article in The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine:

“[…] it is rather as a lover of poetry, and the friend of literature, than a poet, that Rogers presents himself to the mind.

Certainly, ‘pleasing’ as his poetry no doubt is, we can scarcely imagine the want of it creating any considerable gap in English literature: he was neither the originator of a new school nor the expositor of novelty in thought, feeling, or expression, and his chief merit lies in being merely elegant and graceful. Taste and elegance, indeed, were his peculiar attributes; and we may almost say the former was so prominent a characteristic that his love for poetry, elegant poetry, was but a part of this idiosyncrasy. […]

In the history of literature, Rogers is the link connecting the age of Johnson and Goldsmith with the present. He was born on the 30th of July, 1763, nearly ten years before the death of the latter, and he lived until December 18th, 1855. He was alive when the ‘Vicar of Wakefield,’ ‘The Traveller,’ and ‘The Deserted Village’ were given to the world; and he lived to see Tennyson made poet-laureate, and to read ‘Vanity Fair’ and ‘Pickwick.’ […]

Samuel Rogers was the third son of Thomas Rogers, a wealthy London banker, of Freeman’s-court, Cornhill, from which place he afterwards removed his business to 29, Clement’s-lane, Lombard-street. His private residence was Stoke Newington, and there the poet was born, in the first house on Newington-green, not far from Ball’s Pond. The family belonged to that wealthy class of Protestant Dissenters satirized by Mr. Thackeray in ‘The Newcomes,’ and in the quiet routine of such society our author lived until he emerged as a poet. […] [H]is first published poem, ‘Ode to Superstition,’ appeared when he was only in his twenty-sixth year, and we can scarcely imagine so polished a composition to have been his first effort.

In 1792, his best known work, ‘Pleasures of Memory,’ appeared, and established his reputation; it was also the means of introducing him to the distinguished statesman, Mr. Fox, for whom he contracted a friendship almost romantic in its warmth and tenderness, and lasting uninterruptedly until the latter’s death. It was in accordance with the wishes of this friend that Rogers changed his residence to St. James’s-place, and emerged from the society of the merchants and bankers, the magnates of the dissenting class, into the ranks of fashion and genius — in that day almost synonymous terms. […]

It is well for Rogers that he  was possessed of an ample independence; his writings never could have been remunerative; and it may be even questioned whether they would have ever attained the rank they hold, had they been unaccompanied by the prestige of the author’s celebrity as a man of taste, and a person of consequence in society, from his known wealth, and the rank and talent of his associates. […]

Rogers was kind and generous to all who crossed his path. His actual vanity as an author — and its was actual — never produced mean envy; his ambition, and he had much, never created jealousy in his kindly nature; even his keen sensibility to ridicule, though it might provoke retaliation  of a similar kind, was never suffered to influence him further. The author might give satire for satire, but the man was incapable of revenge or persecution. […]


On Newington-green, was we have seen, the poet was born, and here he remained still he was about thirty years of age. Then he had chambers in the Temple for some five years, and finally removed to his mansion, at 22, St. James’s-place. Here it was that he wrote nearly all his poems, with the exception of the ‘Pleasure of Memory,’ and here it was that he was visited by the most celebrated men of his time — and his time, as  has been shown, was beyond the usual age allotted to man. The front of his house overlooked the Green Park, possession, also, a gateway into it, and the interior was richly and picturesquely adorned with the highest productions of art, in all the varied forms of drawings, prints, miniatures, medallions, antique ornaments, paintings, and sculpture. The distinctive genius of every country, and every school, seemed there to find its fitting place. Happy was the man who was thus able to gratify< his love of the noble and the beautiful — happier still, that he was gifted with the sensibility to enjoy his precious possessions!”

Victorian Life: Autumn Fashions

Victorian Fashion: A fashion print from 1860
What did the fashionable lady wear in the autumn of 1860? The Englishwoman’s Domestic Magazine has the answer! And because November has had such a mild start, I guess the dress for October will still do.

“This dress is made either in silk or mohair. If in the first, the colours most favoured are still nut-brown or a deep sea-green. The skirt is made in an economical style, having a deep flounce attached to a short skirt. This flounce is headed with a ruche either of its own material, a darker shade of the same colour, or of black silk, cut on the cross and pinked at each edge. The sleeve is long, having a second smaller one, which is cut up two-thirds of its length, both being trimmed round with the same ruche, and having a bow attached at the top of the opening. The body is full, and has a large bow with long ends at the front of the waist. These bows are all made of the same silk as the ruche, and are also pinked at each edge. It is a common thing for many ladies to have by them some quantity of black silk, in the shape of mantles, or other things which have fallen into disuse from change of shape, which may be made servicable  in this way without showing the least difference from new even to the most practised eye; and to such we recommend this application. When this dress is made of mohair, it may be either of a plain colur or a small check, either of which suits the style remarkably well.

As the autumn season brings with it many of the social parties which, while they put the balldress quite out of the question, yet demand a toilette of simple elegance, we will here mention one which is taking the lead in Paris on similar occasions. It consists of a muslin, either white or with a small pattern, or of  a barège made with a double skirt, the under one being trimmed with six narrow flounces, simply hemmed; the upper one with three. The sleeve consists of a large puff set into a band just large enough to pass over the hand and encircle the arm half way between the wrist and the elbow, and having a lace turned up over it. A fichu of net and lace covers the body, which is low. A broad ribbon bow, figured with bouqets, having long ends, is attached to the waist. Sometimes this bow is of black or coloured silk, pinked at each edge; but this is matter of taste.

For the promenade, the chief articles are jackets and mantles of striped cloth. The first of these are made large and simple, having a peculiarity in the sleeve, which is cut extremely wide, and put in large plaits into the arm-hole, from whence it falls quite unconfined. This jacket has also a small collar and pockets.”


10 YearsToday is my blog’s 10th anniversary. Back in 2005, I started blogging about six weeks before my debut novel THE LILY BRAND was due to hit stores. So today’s blogiversary marks the beginning of several weeks of 10-year-celebrations.

Only at the moment I don’t feel very celebratory as I’m in the middle of deadline hell, which, as you know, is always quite intense — INTENSE!!!!! — for me. So celebrations proper will start next month, and there will be a big giveaway at some point or another. So stay tuned.  🙂

(Wheeee!!!! TEN YEARS!!!!!!!!!!)

Writer’s Desk, 24 May

a picture of Sandra Schwab's deskAt the end of the month, the WIP (Eagle’s Honor: Ravished) is due at my editor’s — and as always, I still have oodles of scenes to write, so I’m expect to go into full panic at some point next week….

It doesn’t help that I wrote the biggest part of this book by hand.

Which I still have to type up.


More Romans…

cover picture for Eagle's Honor: Ravished, by Sandra SchwabToday it’s all about these two: Adelar & Livia, the hero & heroine from my second Roman romance. Eagle’s Honor: Ravished is due at my editor’s at the end of this month, so I better knuckle down & get on with the story.

Eagle’s Honor: Ravished is set about 70 years after Eagle’s Honor: Banished, and the heroine is the great-granddaughter of Marcus & Lia (and yes, there are references to the first book in this one). After the death of her parents and her siblings, Livia comes to Rome to live with her aunt and uncle. She has been raised in a fort at the border of the empire and thus finds it very difficult to adapt to life in Rome. Here’s a snippet from her first meeting with Adelar (raw & unedited):

One morning, when she had spent almost a month in Rome, Livia was shaken out of her reveries by her aunt’s excited shouts. A moment later, Aunt Floria burst into her room. “Oh, my dear! It is the most exciting thing ever!” She beamed at Livia. “You must come and see. I insist upon it!” She held out her hand. “Come, come.”

Livia let herself be dragged from her room to the gallery that surrounded one of the house’s inner courtyards.

“It is the best surprise,” Aunt Floria said. “Truly, I have the best of husbands! Look, look!” She pointed.

There in the courtyard stood a man surrounded by two of the male household slaves, his hands bound. He wore a rough, sleeveless tunic that clung to his muscular frame and left the brand on his left shoulder in clear display.

At the women’s approach, he raised his head, and Livia found herself staring into the coldest blue eyes she had ever seen. They were, she thought numbly, such a curious contrast to his hair, which shimmered in the sunlight like burnished gold.

Despite the warmth of the day, a curious little shiver raced down her spine.

“Isn’t he glorious?” her aunt whispered. “I saw him in the arena when we last attended the games, and I knew from the first that I simply must have him. — Yoohooo!” She waved to the man and didn’t seem to notice the hostile expression that flickered over his lean, narrow face nor the subtle tightening of his lips.

The Other Rome: Alison Morton on Her Roma Nova Series

A picture of Alison Morton This week, my writing friend Alison Morton is publishing the fourth in her Roma Nova thriller series, AURELIA. We share an interest in all things Roman, so I asked Alison to tell us about Roma Nova where her books are set.

Thanks for inviting me on to your blog, Sandy!

Roma Nova started in my head when I was eleven years old, fascinated by the Roman mosaics at Ampurias, in northeast Spain. My father told me all about soldiers and senators, traders and engineers, farmers and settlers, politicos and slaves. I listened under the hot sun and when he’d finished, I asked, “What would it have been like if women were in charge?”

Clever man, he replied, “Well, what do you think it would be like?”

A picture of little Alison on the mosaic

Little Alison & the Roman Mosaics

Normal life intervened, but this slightly fantastical idea stayed in my head. When I sat in front of my computer to start writing my first novel a few decades later, the story sprung out and my fingers had to work hard to keep up with my brain!

So what is Roma Nova?

It’s a small (imaginary) country somewhere in central Europe founded sixteen hundred years ago by a group of dissident Romans wanting to keep their traditional religion and values. Apulius, the leader of Roma Nova’s founders in AD 395, had married a tough daughter of a Celtic princeling in Noricum (roughly today’s Austria). She’d left her native Virunum twenty years before, travelled to Rome, found Apulius and married him the day of her arrival. She came from a society in which, although Romanised for several generations, women made decisions, fought in battles and managed inheritance and property. Their four daughters were amongst the first pioneers so necessarily had to act more decisively than they would have in a traditional urban Roman setting.

Given the unstable, dangerous times in Roma Nova’s first few hundred years, eventually the daughters as well as sons had to put on armour and carry weapons to defend their homeland and their way of life. Fighting danger side by side with brothers and fathers reinforced women’s roles. And in light of their ancestors’ persecution by the Christian emperor in the late fourth century, they never allowed the incursion of monotheistic paternalistic religions.

Photo of woman fighter with attribution Photo courtesy of Britannia

Photo courtesy of Britannia

So I don’t think that it’s too far a stretch for women to have developed leadership roles in all parts of Roma Novan life over the next sixteen centuries.

 Tell us about your books – why thrillers?

Well, much as I love, live and breathe the alternate timeline of Roma Nova, I didn’t want to bore readers with a straight counterfactual history. And I adore thrillers, especially with lots of twists and turns and a strong heroine. So I put these themes altogether into the first book, INCEPTIO, which means ‘beginning’. A 24-year-old New York office worker realises somebody is hunting her because of her family connections with Roma Nova…. And this same heroine continues through PERFIDITAS (betrayal) and SUCCESSIO (next generation).

AURELIA, which is out this week, is set in the late 1960s and tells the story of the threat against the first heroine’s grandmother. Quite a lot of the action takes place in Berlin, but in a world where the Second World War didn’t happen…

cover of Alison's Morton AURELIALate 1960s Roma Nova, the last Roman colony that has survived into the 20th century. Aurelia Mitela is alone – her partner gone, her child sickly and her mother dead. Forced in her mid-twenties to give up her beloved career as a Praetorian officer, she is struggling to manage an extended family tribe, businesses and senatorial political life.

 But her country needs her unique skills. Somebody is smuggling silver – Roma Nova’s lifeblood – on an industrial scale. Sent to Berlin to investigate, she encounters the mysterious and attractive Miklós, a suspected smuggler, and Caius Tellus, a Roma Novan she has despised, and feared, since childhood.

 Aurelia suspects that the silver smuggling hides a deeper conspiracy and follows a lead into the Berlin criminal underworld. Barely escaping a trap set by a gang boss intent on terminating her, she realises that her old enemy is at the heart of all her troubles and pursues him back home to Roma Nova…

Watch the book trailer video. Warning: there is exciting music!

AURELIA is available from Amazon and other ebook retailers or as a paperback from Amazon or through any bookshop. (All direct links here)

Find out more about Alison and Roma Nova here:
Facebook author page:
Twitter: @alison-morton

A Snippet from the Roman Romance (with some digital art)

Lia from "Eagle's Honor: Banished" by Sandra SchwabI’ve tried my hand at digital art this weekend (see above) and worked on my Roman romance (see below). Enjoy some Lia & Marcus!

He looked at their intertwined fingers – his hand large and blunt and burnished by the sun, hers dark and slender, a fine tremor running through it.

He glanced up. There was a vulnerability in her expression that cut into his heart. “May I kiss you?” he asked softy.

The question seemed to steady her, for her mouth twisted into a taunting smile. “You didn’t ask the last time.”

He tugged a little at her hand. “I’m asking you now.”

The smile vanished. She stared at him, while he rubbed his thumb over the back of her hand.

After several moments that seemed like a small eternity, she swallowed hard and licked her lips. “Please,” she whispered. “Marcus…”