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in association with, click hereSand of the Arena (A Gladiator of the Empire Novel)
by James Duffy

The thraex tossed down his sword and ripped the helmet from his head, revealing a bearded face, red with intensity. With arms stretching to the sky, he let out a piercing cry. Quintus was sure the roar of the crowd could be heard two kilometers away in Aquae Sulis. But he did not cheer. He simply watched the victorious champion standing alone in the sand of the arena.

Quintus's voice was suddenly a whisper. “That's me. There is my destiny.”

To reach his destiny, Quintus Honorius Romanus has to use all his ingenuity. Ever since he was a small boy, he wanted to be a gladiator, to his father's amusement and his mother's despair. His bodyguard Aulus is a former gladiator and lets him dream. Fate honored Quintus's ambition, but Fate also dealt him a grievous blow first. Shipwrecked with his family on the way to Britain, he is almost the sole survivor and cheated out of his inheritance, even his identity, and he ends up a slave.

James Duffy has written a thrilling novel, the first in a planned series “Gladiators of the Empire.”  The book is well researched and includes an excellent introduction in which the author discusses the life of gladiators, the schools, and the various types of fight.

The story takes place mostly in the years 63 and 64 A.D. of Nero's reign and moves from Rome to Britain and back to Pompeii and the city of Rome.

Quintus manages to escape from slavery in Aquae Sulis in Britain and becomes a volunteer at a gladiator school in Glevum. His dream is to become primus palus—first gladiator in a school, his obsession is to right the wrongs done to him and to bring the villain in the piece to justice, even if it's only private justice.

The main characters in the novel are his life long enemy and tormentor, Lucius, his Aunt Julia, and his friends in the gladiator school, the owner Petra, the trainer Julianus, Lindani the African venator—the “hunter” who is put into the arena with the wild animals—and Amazonia, the female gladiator. Lindani especially is a fascinating character. In a way, Quintus and these two share a similar history, so the unspoken rule that gladiators should not be friends, because one day you might have to kill your friend, is soon broken. There is also the Chinese traveler, Master Sheng, who introduces Quintus to wushu (the art of fighting), chi, and taiji, and teaches him to control his mind and body during the fights.

This reviewer does not really care about gladiators and arenas, but is great fun experiencing Quintus grow and evolve into a dual personality: Quintus the man, friend, planner, and Taurus the fighter.

Eventually, the whole school ends up in Rome and we witness the gory, heart stopping finale. But all's well that ends well in an adventure story, the villains get their just deserts, and Quintus/Taurus gets the prize.

It's a well plotted tale and a must-read for true gladiator aficionados. Mr. Duffy is not only an author but also a television writer, and it shows in the sure-footed story line and the way in which he brings gladiator schools and events and fights in the arena to life. Some happenings are a bit too good to be true—but, hey, it's an adventure. Curl up and enjoy!

The dialogues and the language are sometimes a little wooden, and there is another exception to all this praise: The author's use of kilometers instead of miles, jarring at least to this reviewer. Postscript: I have been advised that the subsequent novels in the series as well as the paperback edition of this book will use miles instead of kilometers.

Irene Hahn

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© 2006 Irene B. Hahn
in association with, click here Sand of the Arena: A Gladiators of the Empire Novel
By James Duffy
Publisher: McBooks Press
415 pages
ISBN: 1590131118
List Price $16.29

Paperback edition

in association with, click hereThe Fight for Rome: A Gladiators of the Empire Novel
by James Duffy
McBooks Press (2007)
384 pages
ISBN: 1590131126
List Price $23.95

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