A befitting end to the Warriors of Rome Collection. An absolutely wonderful piece of writing.
-Review by Kazza K
The Warriors of Rome Collection has been a good read and this was a terrific book to finish it up. I haven't read three of the four book's authors before, and overall I'm so impressed. Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane wrote as if one person. To me this is a compliment. This was a totally seamless co-write. I must look for more by them now.
This is not an easy book to review because a) I don't want to give away the intrigue that is so well crafted. I will spoil things if I do, and b) the historical references won't make a lot of sense in a review because they're more everyday and interwoven into the characters and their environment. With further reference to the arts. There are no patricians and senators here, more a weathy merchant and his noble-born wife, the daughter of a senator and the goings on in their lives in Rome 26BCE.
Anazâr is a gladiator who has been assigned to a new lansita, for a price. He has a two month contract as the master of a ludus of gladiatrices. When his old lanista, Iunius, trades him he finds that the new lanista, Lucius Marianus, seems more interested in him as a person. He seems fairer and more reasonable than what he's been used to. Both Marianus and his wife, Aelia, seem easygoing, efficient and not heavy handed. He is not beset with beatings from Marianus. He has to train the gladiatrices - he was picked for his gladiatorial abilities, and because he is gay...no raping the property...report every night on their performance, and...service Marianus. But Anazâr considers it no hardship for a seemingly better, fairer master.
Anazâr works hard with the women, but there are language problems. I loved that this book covered slaves from different regions/tribes - Gallia, German, Aethiopian and Sarmation amongst them. Where previous books in the collection concentrated primarily on a region for the characters that had been brought into Rome, this book looked at the far reaching spread Rome had at the time. The language differences and attempts to get the slaves to speak Latin. It is in all the women's interests to speak it so Anazâr can teach them, so they can work as a team and bond. When he arrives at the ludus he discovers appalling conditions, angry, frightened women who are rabble. Women who have been raped by the previous master. He makes sure conditions change. He helps to ensure they are better trained so they are able to defend themselves, fight better. He gets them cleaned up, and boosts morale...as best he can, given the circumstances.
Along the way he connects with Marianus's brother, Felix and they form a bond. However it is not good for a slave and a weathy man to do so. To add to this an attempt is made on Felix's life, however the way it occurs one can't be sure whether it is actually Felix or Marianus who is under threat. There are reasons why either man could be in danger. Who is the one in danger? And why? Who is behind it? It's hard to know as both men suspect each other and both have plausible reasons why they are not the person behind the attempts. Why they are the ones under threat. This adds to the intrigue as Anazâr is torn between a new, more reasonable working arrangement and master, and his growing feelings for Felix.
What I liked -
The writing was superb. It captured the pain, the brutality, the utter misery and cruelty that marked the life of a gladiator. Of a slave in Roman times. No-one cared for them as humans. They were just chattels, pieces of entertainment or profit centres; "barbarians." In Mark of the Gladiator I felt first of all for Anazâr, his acceptance of his treatment as property. Moving from one ludus through to another ludus by way of a Domus, with a somewhat better deal, but, yet again, having it's own set of...problems. My heart ripped assunder as I learned of the women in the ludus under his tutelage to become gladiatrices. Their individual stories - captured, accused of murder of an abusive husband, children being sold or taken from them. With the absolute possibility of fighting men, larger, stronger. And more -
Would they ever have to face a man of their tribe in the arena? A husband, perhaps, or a brother? The thought sickened him.
He had no answer.
The main characters were so well drawn. I absolutely loved Anazâr. He's smart, decent, strong, caring. He carries a face tattoo, TMQF, for trying to escape - tene me quia fugio - 'halt me for I am a runaway,' making him hyper aware of his permanent Roman brand, affecting him, his face, his psyche. Never to be removed, even if he could get free. His hard life, his worry about his former life, those killed, left behind, those he's had to kill doing exactly what he has to to survive. He thinks of a wife that he gave no child to, left behind, and how she is faring. His wonderful personality and strength of character literally jumped off the page, came to life throughout. His hopes so low, beaten to nothingness in the beginning at his old ludus -
Pain ripping deep down into his straining body while his skin itched at the sensation of blood crawling down his back. Pain. That was all. He could summon neither hate nor outrage, and he lost his fear of this thin leather lash the day he'd seen a nailed flagrum lay open a man's ribs and send him howling and broken to the afterworld....Even the bittersweet seeds of resentment and despair, sown the day of his capture and watered ever since with an endless string of humiliations and degradations into something else, something there wasn't a name for.
He wanted to want life again, instead of merely groping toward it out of an animal abhorrence of death...
..but maybe he didn't want that either
Then going to the new Domus/ludus having the hope of freedom offered, dangled by Marianus if he can do certain things well for him. Perhaps he can be a freedman, return home....
Felix. What an interesting character. In all honesty I had to warm up to him. I enjoyed his humour, he was bitchy to be sure. But, still, I needed some time....and then I was in love with him. As much as I was with Anazâr. He had some fabulous lines and he had a devil-may-care attitude at times, along with his share of anxiety. Fellix and Anazâr seriously smoked up the page when they got together. Phew. Felix smoked up the page on his own!
I liked and believed in Anazâr and Felix's love and relationship. They had things that they bonded over. Both despised the use of gladiators. The way they were slaughtered for entertainment. Felix felt a camaraderie for the women in the ludus. He could speak many languages and listened to them. Yes, he could be self-centred but he could also have great depth of feeling and he loved love -
"To each at birth nature alloted a vice, to me Fortune allotted the doom that I should ever be in love."
"Your own lines?"
"No, Sextus Propertius. I 'love what's foreign,' was it? Well, I love you. And I'd tell you, and better yet show you, so many more reasons 'why.' Come with me tonight to my hiding place....I shouldn't make you beg."
"I won't make you," said Anazâr, and kissed him.
The secondary characters were all fully developed. For example, the women in the ludus captured my heart in different ways. I loved Rhakshna, she was a hellacious woman, a tough fighter and no-one's little woman. I thought Amanikhabale shrewd, smart and caring. The women, in true Roman style, were given mythological monikers, - Atalanta, Diana, Penthesilea...But their spirit belonged to their home. Anazâr also has a Roman name, Cyrenaicus, Cyrenaica was a province/colony of Rome, now Libya. But for the reader he is Anazâr. For Felix he is Anazâr.
The action scenes towards the latter part of the book were absolutely terrific. They were vivid, clear, edge-of-your-seat, white-knuckling material. I had my heart in my mouth. I did not want my ladies to be hurt, to die. I wanted these gladiatrices to live. I wanted Anazâr to live, damnit!!
I like a bit of angst and it was here. I enjoyed not knowing what was going to happen. It could have ended either way - badly or well. I wasn't sure. I expected the worst, hoped for the best.
The antagonists were truly agitating. I just wanted revenge for their petty, inconsiderate, use-up-other-people-and-spit-them-out atttitude and behaviour. Their utter coldness.
I loved the writing. I truly felt like I was there watching this story unfold. The history in this book was wonderful. It isn't overhwelming if that worries you. It's just little touches and phrases and references. Mark of the Gladiator had the length some of the others in the collection didn't and could throw a bit more into different aspects - the characters, everyday life in Rome, the history, intrigue - they had time to develop and were all well done. The history in all the Warriors of Rome Collection has been excellent and thoroughly researched. I really must say that this has been one of the most enjoyable fictional pieces on Rome I have read; erotic or not.
If you like some treachery, intrigue, history, drama, sex, action you will find it in spades in Mark of the Gladiator. What a way to end the Warriors of Rome Collection.
The glossary and authors' note at the end are well worth reading if you would like a bit more on the book's history. Or you would like to know a bit more about the people, region, and the time in general.