12 of 15 people found the following review helpful
- Published on Amazon.com
I'm not kidding, either. Actually, I had been looking forward to reading this novel, set in the arenas and gladiator schools of ancient Rome. And I am always on the lookout for new writers, hoping to find someone new to pick up my interest.
Sadly, this novel was not going to fulfill that desire.
The time is that of Marcus Aurelius, Rome's philosopher-emperor, when the empire is at its heighth, and the province of Britannia is a rich outpost. But for Rhyddes, a Celtic girl who labours alongside her brothers on the family farm, Rome means nothing but drudgery. Her father takes pleasure in beating her, her mother has died long ago, and life is pretty miserable. After a raid from Picts, not only are two of her brothers killed, but Rhyddes finds herself sold into slavery by her father. Taken to Londinium, she is bought by an Egyptian, Jamil, and trained to become a gladiatrix -- a woman warrior -- to please the crowds in arenas.
Along the way, she attracts the attention of the son of the Roman governor, Agricola. Marcus Calpurnius Aquila is no stranger to the arena himself, but his father has skillfully manipulated him into giving up the life of a volunteer gladiator, and assuming a much more respectable life. Marcus also finds himself in an arranged marriage with the daughter of a prominent senator, and is chafing at the idea of marrying a stranger, a situation made worse when he spots the lovely Rhyddes, now known as Libertas.
The attraction between Rhyddes/Libertas and Marcus is mutual, but Rhyddes trusts no one after her treatment at the hands of Romans, and Marcus is too much of an honor-bound twit to ever get it together enough to convince the object of his desire to be with him, or stand up to his father. From arranged battles, the daily life of gladiators, social lives of the rich and idle, and other bits of trivia, the estranged lovers manage to survive until the inevitable ending.
For, sadly, this is not much more than a romance novel in historical trappings. Despite basing the character of Rhyddes on an actual archaelogical find -- the Great Dover Street Woman found in London -- no one in the novel ever really grows or changes. Marcus stays rather bumbling and inept, more like a teenager in lust than a savvy Roman, his father Agricola a hardnosed tyrant, and only Jamil gets any sort of backstory to give him interest. Rhyddes isn't much better, stoically bearing up through gang-rape, beatings, abuse, near-death, witnessing crucifixions, and any sort of nastiness that the author can dish up, all the while being lovely, admired and a heroine in the best Mary-Sue fashion. She is loved by all -- except for nasty men who want to rape her, doesn't bear a grudge, suffers through torments, unrequited love, and comes through it all smiling.
Urf. It's enough to make one hurl their braised peacock tongues, it does.
Iverson tries to bring the Roman Empire to life, but can't seem to shake off her modern sensibilities as to what she wants true love to be. I found her getting Marcus to agree to monogamy laughable -- it's a very modern concept, and not one that would have ever entered the typical Roman male brain -- or woman either. Honor, too, is more of the medieval chivalry type, than anything that a Roman would have done either. Characters use modern idiom and slang -- one person is described with a duffel, for crying out loud. Villians all leer, lick their lips, and fondle -- Iverson really enjoys using that word -- while trying to rape our heroine, and generally she is saved by some good-hearted fellow male gladiator who yearns for her chastely.
Even the historical characters aren't given much to work with either -- Marcus Aurelius and his family, including Commodus, are pretty flat, along with Galen, the physician, and even Agricola, who was noted for his leadership in Britain. For nearly five hundred pages this clanging bore of a story grinds on, with scarcely any humor, lightness or cleverness to lift the story beyond a dull roar. In fact, I kept setting the book down out of tedium, and finding housework to do.
Now that's a sign of a bad novel.
While the bits about the gladiators is certainly interesting, and the author kept that part of the plot going, the overall effect is flattened by the lackluster romance, modern posturing and one note characters. Even the sex scenes are pretty boring. If I want to read a novel about ancient Rome, I will probably return to the works of Colleen McCullough, who knows how to tell a story with historical characters, plenty of details, and knowing to stay with the right attitudes for the time.
So don't be tempted by the provocative premise of this one, and don't bother. Unless tepid moonings by dimwitted teenagers is really your style. Barely three stars, and that's mostly because the author tried really hard, but I'm being more than generous.