First Lines: The steam rising off the backs of the cantering horses faded into the morning fog. Our chariot raced toward the far end of the Forgotten Vale, and Maelgwyn Ironhand–my charioteer, constant companion, and frequent adversary–pulled back on the reins.
Back in high school, I was reading Lesley Livingston’s Wondrous Strange series, about faeries and Shakespeare and a bunch of other cool stuff. At the library one day, I saw this on the shelf and I thought it looked interesting.
When Fallon was a child, Julius Caesar invaded her homeland of Prydain and captured her father–a king of the Celts. To get him back, Fallon’s older sister Sorcha fought Caesar’s legions–and died. Fallon has been living in Sorcha’s shadow ever since and now, on Fallon’s 17th birthday, she can finally be a warrior like Sorcha. But she never gets the chance. Captured and sold to an elite Roman school training female gladiators, Fallon discovers she’s owned by her worst enemy: Caesar himself. In a cruel twist of fate, Caesar may just be the only hope Fallon has of survival. With enemies all around her, and not just in the arena, Fallon will always be fighting to protect herself. And her most dangerous adversary may just be Cai, the young Roman soldier intent on stealing her heart.
This was a very interesting concept. I’ve read Lesley Livingston before and, as she admits in her own acknowledgements, this is the first time she’s written something that didn’t involve characters using magic. And I liked the result.
This covers an interesting moment in history that I don’t see many other books write about. It’s set during the reign of Julius Caesar in Rome, but it takes place not just in Rome but in Prydain or Britain as well, with the different bands of Celts that lived there. With my fast growing interest in the Celts and Anglo-Saxons who lived in England before the Norman Invasion, this was something I had to check out. And it did not disappoint.
The story focuses on the idea of having female gladiators known as gladiatrix. At the time of the story, it’s been a role that has been growing only for the last ten years or so, so there still aren’t many gladiatrix. It’s kind of interesting to see how it might have been different for a female warrior than a man, and the story makes sure to point some of that out.
The plot was fascinating and gripping once you knew what was going on. (It takes some time to set everything up, especially since we’re no longer familiar with the day-to-day of the Celtic or the Roman cultures.) When warriors of any kind are involved, there’s always danger and tempers on edge. I had a hard time predicting what might happen next because, like Fallon, I didn’t know what was normal in Rome and neither of us knew who was friend and who was foe.
I found myself really enjoying the characters in this. Fallon is strong and determined, but that determination also makes her blind to the politics of what’s happening around her. That’s where Cai comes in, as he wants to protect her as much as he can, even knowing she can fight her own battles. They have an interesting chemistry together because they push each other. I like that. It was even interesting to see people like Caesar himself and Cleopatra make appearances in this book. They were given personalities I have never really heard either of them having, but it makes sense. (Example: Caesar is nice and Cleopatra is clever but compassionate.)
I keep using the word over and over, but it really was interesting! There were so many little pieces of this story that I kept seeing that got my interest. While I’ve never been a fan of Romans (I much prefer the Greeks), I now kind of want to read up a little on their culture.