Roma Victrix by Russell Whitfield

Book Review by Ghostofclayton

Roma Victrix is Russell Whitfield’s sequel to his debut novel, Gladiatrix, which saw the rise of the deadly-and-beautiful-and-knows-it-all-too-well Spartan priestess, Lysandra, from enslavement in a Gladiator Training School (or 'Ludus'), to Asia Minor's champion Gladiatrix (or 'Gladiatrix Prima').

In Roma Victrix, Lysandra, ice-cool Queen of the sands, is back, but there's now a chink in her metaphorical, if not gladiatorial, armour. She hasn't fought since the showdown with her main rival in Gladiatrix, and she's out of shape. Not only that, but the good life has brought with it, as often happens, a problem controlling her wine consumption. Whitfield deals expertly and sympathetically with Lysandra's alcoholism. The classic behaviours are all exhibited, starting with the exchanged glances of her colleagues, the denial, and then the excuses, the justifications, the passing of blame, and the secret indulgences. Anyone who has battled with the demon drink will, I'm sure, instantly recognise her descent into this terrible addiction, and empathise with her naive attempts to regain control over her life in this, let's face it, pre-Alcoholics Anonymous era.

It is against the background of her personal battle that she must eschew her new and comfortable life, and prepare once more for another kind of battle. She has been requested by none other than the Emperor Domitian to journey to the newly built Flavian Amphitheatre in Rome to be pitted against their Gladiatrix Prima, the formidable Aesalon Nocturna (Midnight Falcon).

But Lysandra isn't the only character from Gladiatrix to reappear in Roma Victrix. Among those returning are Sorina, the formidable barbarian Queen, and Lysandra's former nemesis. Now causing trouble for the Roman legions in Dacia during the Battle of Tapae. It's a joy to read Whitfield's account of this significant Roman defeat, credibly elaborating upon the sparse historical record, to create a dramatic and vivid account of the conflict. It's in these areas that Whitfield excels. The effort he has put into research must be significant, and the result is on the page for all to see. Lessons in Gladiatorial combat, life under the Roman Emperor, and Greek history are there for those who wish them. Just one niggle from me – I would have loved a glossary for all those Latin words that appear in italics. Sometimes the action's too exciting to break off from the book and log onto Wikipedia!

I feel I would be doing readers of this review a disservice if I left out one last comment about Roma Victrix. It is a matter of record that Gladiators, and by extraction, Gladiatrixes (Gladiatrices?) both worked hard, and played hard. So, you will find a small amount of . . . ahem . . . ess – ee – ecks . . in the pages of this book. A small but very steamy and graphic amount, to be precise. So, in the unlikely event you'd bought this book as a birthday present for your Mum, you may want to reconsider. However, if you have quite a broadminded Mum, or if you enjoyed Gladiatrix, you're certain to enjoy this well-written and action-packed sequel, which is every bit as engaging as its predecessor.

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