Title: Gladiator's Honor
Author: Michelle Styles
Published: 2006, Harlequin
Category: Historical Romance
I bought this book last year when it came out because I was really excited by the idea of a romance novel set in Ancient Rome. You just don't see that. And I have been interested in all things Roman ever since I took Latin in high school. (It's not just a dead language, people. It's awesome.) Anyway, Gladiator's Honor has been languishing in the TBR for ages. Then Smart Bitch Sarah reviewed it and gave it an A-, and they don't give out good grades like that to just anything. And the second season of Rome on HBO started. (I love that show, though it's been a bit depressing and way bloody this year.) So I was inspired to get me some Roman lovin'.
Julia Antonia is a young divorced Roman matron. She's living with her father again after leaving an abusive husband. Valens the Thracian is a famous gladiator in Rome for a lavish set of games put on by Caesar. The Senate has decided that it's dangerous for the gladiators to be housed together (they don't want anymore slave revolts), so Caesar asks his supportors to lodge a gladiator in their homes. Valens gets housed with Julia's family. He is hoping to win a wooden sword--the highest honor for a gladiator, and a symbol to show that he is freed from slavery. Valens was actually born to the patrician class, but was captured by pirates and sold into slavery. No matter what his family was or how great a fighter he is, the stigma of being a gladiator is insurmountable. This obviously causes some problems for Valens and the very respectable Julia as they fall in love.
While I didn't think this was as great as Sarah did, I did enjoy it. Mostly because of the setting, which is done quite well. There's a lot of interesting information about Roman life. And I liked the way the plot played out true to the customs of the period--there were a couple times when I was worried the author was going to take the easy way out by allowing the characters to disregard Roman customs, but she didn't and the book is much the better for it.
One thing that did bother me was how lightly the violence was all taken. Valens was a gladiator and the Romans were seriously bloodthirsty folks--you know any successful gladiator must have had scores of kills under his belt. I never felt like Valens could be that person. Even the final scene when he kills the baddie, he's forced into it by the villain's cheating. Not that I really want to read about a hardened killer. I guess my point is that a true Roman gladiator might not be the best sort of hero for our modern-day sensibilities (especially my very non-violent self).
jmc did post a few weeks ago that Harlequin is doing another Roman book--but it's another gladiator story! AHH! I've been searching on eHarlequin but I can't find any mention of the book now. It was called Gladiatorix, or something like. Why can't we have a nice story about a . . . mosaic-layer?