“Time stopped. Quintus was suddenly in some hellish painting from the hand of a demented artist. The image was too brutal to be real. Had he really contributed to this catastrophe? Could he have possibly fought this battle even more savagely than the battle-hardened barbarians in his ranks? Could he possibly have taken so many lives? He had thought he knew the power of Taurus, but he had never considered him capable of killing on such a massive scale.”
This second novel in the Gladiators of the Empire series takes the story of Quintus Honorius Romanus, the gladiator going by the name of Taurus, to a new level and involves both protagonist and antagonist in the politics of civil war.
It's AD 69, the Year of the Four Emperors. Galba has been killed, Otho is facing Vitellius, and gladiators are recruited – or rather their masters are forced to rent them out – as soldiers for Otho. For most of Quintus’ fellow gladiators, it's just learning another way of fighting, and familiar to those who are captured barbarians. But for a handful, such as Quintus, who are Roman citizens, the dilemma is glaring: a fight in the arena is one thing, but killing other Romans in battle is another. For Lindani, the African venator, it means killing people rather than animals. What keeps Quintus going is his induction into a secret plan to keep both Otho and Vitellius from victory in favor of Vespasian. As Quintus keeps this plan from his friends in order to protect them, Lindani has a harder time adjusting.
Meanwhile, in a distant ludus in Africa, Quintus’ arch-enemy, the slave Lucius Calidius, believed to be out of action forever, gets a second chance. For readers not familiar with the first novel, Sand of the Arena, flashbacks and reflections provide the story that intertwined the lives of Quintus, Lucius, and Quintus’ aunt Julia in the past. Julia, newly widowed and now sole owner of the Romanus shipping business, has come to rescue Lucius, and soon they find themselves in comfortable circumstances in Alexandria and Caesarea, where they manage to insinuate themselves into the governor Vespasian’s good graces. We now learn that Vespasian was a great friend and original business partner of Quintus’ father and knew Quintus as a child. This does not please Lucius, whose age-old hatred of Quintus is implacable. And so the plot thickens …
Back at Otho’s legions, after the first battle, Quintus is made a temporary centurion in charge of the 300 Pompeiian fighters, a significant albeit dangerous appointment for the evolving conspiracy. Life for Quintus and Lindani is complicated by the fact that their close friend, the female gladiator Amazonia, has smuggled herself into the group on the way to the war. Discovered, she is not sent back to the ludus but has her glorious hair shorn and is made a soldier too, to the dismay of her protectors, and to their greater dismay when she discloses her reasons why she joined.
To tell much more would spoil the suspense. The story is nicely woven into the real history of AD 69 – outlined in Afterword & Historical Notes, with a number of real life personae and some surprises – and after a harrowing retelling of the battle of Cremona ends in Rome with a series of climactic, sometimes horrific scenes. And for the sake of a tight storyline, the author decided to have Vespasian return to Rome within the year rather than almost a year later, and be part of ‘all's well that ends well.’
The characters introduced in the first novel have grown and Mr. Duffy is adept at portraying their relationships, and their internal conflicts, not the least Quintus transforming himself chillingly into Taurus when the situation demands it. The emotional plight of Romans fighting Romans in a civil war is imaginatively treated. (A warning: the battle scenes are brutally realistic.) This reader, occasional blood and gore notwithstanding, looks forward to the next installment. It will be a fast forward to the time of the eruption of Vesuvius AD 79 and is tentatively titled “Rain of Fire.”
And how do Lucius and Julia fare in our story? I won't tell, read for yourself …
More can be found on www.gladiatorsoftheempire.com
Irene's gladiator mosaic photos
© 2007 Irene B. Hahn
| The Fight for Rome: A Gladiators of the Empire Novel
by James Duffy
List Price $23.95
Sand of the Arena: A Gladiators of the Empire Novel
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