"Rex Electi" review
Title: Rex Electi
Author: W. P. Kimball
Subgenre: Alternate history, Science fiction
2021 Bingo squares: Self published, Debut
In an alternate-history Rome, where the Senate took control away from the Emperor hundreds of years ago and started a new tradition of deciding the empire’s ruler, Caius Serica finds out that his entire life has been a setup both to judge and to prepare him for the Trials to become today’s new Emperor. He’s whisked away to a secret mountain location by Marcus, his advocate, where he will compete against twenty-nine other candidates to vie for the position. While there, he forges alliances, makes enemies, and has to confront not only his opponents but also himself - does he even want this?
Rex Electi is the debut long-form work of /r/writingprompts author Luna Lovewell, under the alternative pen name W. P. Kimball. The premise seems straightforward enough - alternative history, protagonist has to take place in trials - but as can be expected from Kimball’s short fiction, the execution is enjoyable at all times, and the plot goes in multiple unexpected directions.
For the most part, Rex Electi is purely an alternative history; there’s no magic or flying cars or anything, but there’s enough liberties taken with “advanced technology” in the alternative Roman timeline to categorize it as science fiction. Expect a world that’s more advanced than ours in some areas, but less advanced in others - it’s truly an alternative history.
Caius’s experience at the Trials is at times suspenseful, at times motivational, and at times just funny. The trials themselves are creative, and Kimball absolutely nails the ending. Overall, this is a fun, quick read that I highly recommend, especially if you enjoy “trials” or “magical/martial school/academy” genre stories.