Love and Romanpunk by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Love and Romanpunk (Twelve Planets Book 2) by Tansy Rayner Roberts - the faint image of a Roman coin and a dagger appear on a purple background

[For an audio version of this article, please listen to Episode 24 of Recently Read on The Incomparable podcast network.]

Let us begin with the issue of most interest to future historians: I did not poison my uncle and husband, the Emperor Claudius. Instead, I drove a stake through his heart.

That’s the first paragraph of Love and Romanpunk, by Tansy Rayner Roberts. Before we dive in, let’s get the full disclosure out of the way. Tansy is one of my cohosts on our Doctor Who podcast Verity!, and I do consider her a friend (despite never having met her in the non-internet world). Australia is Very Far Away.

Australia is also where part of this book is set, but not the first part. Love and Romanpunk is made up of four connected short stories that take place in four distinct places and times, but they have a strong thread of Romans and monsters (and Roman monsters) running through them to connect the events throughout history. Speaking of history, Tansy has a PhD in Roman history, so when it comes to ancient Rome, she knows her stuff. I love twisted history, and I love it most when it’s written by someone who knows it and loves it inside and out.

The first story is the most Roman of the bunch. It starts with a bestiary: “Julia Agrippina’s Secret Family Bestiary”, a glossary of monsters that is one of the most clever parts of a very clever book. It educates the reader about the types of monsters one might encounter later, and it simultaneously tells its own story, which is deftly woven into the alphabetical entries. I was skeptical at first because that kind of structured storytelling doesn’t always land for me, but by the end of it I wanted to stand up and applaud.

The rest of this first story is a first-person account of the secret history of the Caesars, written by Julia Agrippina, badass sister of Caligula, mother of Nero, and neice-wife of Claudius. It has a particular focus on the Julias of the family. It’s something special to be a Julia, you see. The introductory glossary makes it pretty clear that *this* Rome is populated by both humans and monsters (and some who are a bit of both). This section tells you who were the monsters and what kinds of monsters they were.

Then we cut to hundreds of years later for the next story, “Lamia Victoriana”, which is told from the POV of Mary Shelly’s sister, Fanny, who is beguiled by the sister of the poet Mary is in love with. Read carefully—it may not be the poet you expect. The poet and his sister are certainly not *what* you expect. Or at least not what Fanny expects. I’ll say this, the way Fanny handles the situation is not what *I* expected!

The result of her handling things leads to the next story, “The Patrician”, which takes place in the aforementioned Australia, in what seems to be just beyond present day. Someone has built a Roman “theme city”, Nova Ostia, complete with actual stones shipped from Rome. That may sound pretty neat and authentic, but apparently authentic Roman stones are basically monster magnets, as Clea Majora discovers. She lives and works in Nova Ostia and serves as our POV character for this section. I’d love to tell you about the person she meets, but I, as a reader, am not terribly quick on the uptake so it took me by delightful surprise. I’d hate to spoil that for anyone who reads this book (and I hope you do!).

The final story, “Last of the Romanpunks”, takes place in an airship, so I pretty much *had* to review this book on The Incomparable Network. It’s a “Romanpunk” airship that’s a travelling Roman-themed bar, complete with togas and spiced, watered wine. This time we see events from the POV of Clea’s grandson Sebastian, who is all grown up and knows his grandmother’s history as a monster-hunter. He thinks that stuff is all in the past. OR IS IT? Yeah. Sorry for the spoiler, but it’s NOT.

My favourite thing about Tansy’s writing is that it is whip-smart and crackingly clever while also being dangerously easy to read. Her stuff is not so much “I don’t want to put it down” as it is “Where the hell did the time go?”

And because this subject is so firmly in her wheelhouse, these stories feel confident and fun, and I really enjoyed the ride. I’ll close with something Tansy says in the Afterword: “I believe that if everyone who ever wrote an academic thesis followed it up with a tasty piece of fiction that is the literary equivalent of spraying offensive graffiti tags all over their area of expertise, the world would be a better place.”

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Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts

Cover of Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts. A drawing of a girl with purple hair, glasses, and a knit cap holding a purple cell phone and saluting with 2 fingers. An older woman with her eyes closed in the background. Silhouettes of 4 superheroes fly in the upper background.

[For an audio version of this article, please listen to Episode 15 of Recently Read on The Incomparable podcast network.]

The Friday Report Presents: Everything You Need To Know about True Blue Aussie Beaut Superheroes, But Were Afraid To Ask

That’s the title of the first chapter of Girl Reporter by Tansy Rayner Roberts. It’s the story of Friday Valentina, daughter of one of the world’s most famous reporters. Friday is a successful reporter in her own right, in the mileu of “new media”—she’s a YouTube vlogger, a live-tweeter, and always has her phone at hand to capture the story. This gets much trickier when the story at hand, the one she’s been avoiding for a while, is this: her famous mother is missing, and her found-family-brother, who happens to be a superhero, thinks they should do something about it.

I should mention that in this version of the world, Australia (along with every other country) has mysterious machines that turn people into superheroes. In Australia, there are five heroes at any given time. Every six months, a new hero is chosen, and one of the existing five retires. These heroes are not only saviors of the world, but celebrities—gracing the covers of magazines and inspiring royal-family-level gossip and speculation. Friday’s mother made her name getting the first interview with one of the heroes, and there’s a very good chance her disappearance has something to do with this. (I won’t spoil where she is or who she’s with, but it’s a helluva reveal.)

Like a fool, I started reading this novella at bedtime, expecting to get a couple chapters in and then fall asleep like I usually do. Alas, the relatable determination and snark of the main character, along with the lively prose, kept me awake and interested—while the intense need to know what happened next kept me turning the virtual pages until I’d finished the whole book. And then, because I just wanted a little bit more about this fantastic story, I read the afterward, in which Roberts admits this story is a love-letter to all the “girl reporters” in comics—the women with no superpowers but plenty of resolve, resourcefulness, and raw talent.

I knew this wasn’t Roberts’ first time writing in this universe, as I’d read her short story “Cookie Cutter Hero” in the Kaleidoscope anthology. That story explains how the “new” Solar (a teenage girl with one hand) received her superhero powers, but I didn’t realize this was the second *book* in this universe until the next day when I looked it up on Goodreads. To be honest, it really didn’t matter that it was a sequel. I got all the context I needed, and I was never confused about what was happening or why. (Though I am definitely gonna go back and read book one, Kid Dark Against the Machine.)

I really recommend Girl Reporter, especially if you have any fondness for superhero-fiction. Roberts pokes fun at the tropes while demonstrating she knows and loves them oh-so-well. I should warn you though, if you don’t like to laugh at (and with) your heroes, this book may not be for you. Also, if you’re not comfortable with feminism, 80s fashion, diversity, or lesbian sex, you might want to avoid this. If those things are your things? Don’t hesitate! Pick up Girl Reporter now!

Cool People Doing Cool Things – Part Three

It’s been A Week.* So you know what that means? It’s time to focus on some good stuff! In this case, it’s good stuff created by other people. Yep, more cool people doing cool things! If you’re just joining us, do check out the first and second posts in this series.


 Cool Person: Tansy Rayner Roberts

My Verity! cohost Tansy has one of the most prodigious blogs in fandom!** Not only does she write about general geekery, feminisim, and fandom, but she does regular features on comic books, Robotech, and fun links (most) every Friday! She’s also a novelist, and she cohosts two podcasts: the aforementioned Verity! and Galactic Suburbia, a relaxed, rambly Australian podcast about speculative fiction news with a decidedly feminist viewpoint.  So yeah. Lots of cool stuff, but the one I want to highlight here is this:

Cool Thing: Musketeer Space

Tansy Musketeer Space

Among all the other great stuff she’s writing about, Tansy has been publishing a novel in weekly web-serialized form. And not just any novel! This is a gender-swapped space-opera version of The Three Musketeers. Continue reading