When I received Russell Whitfield’s Gladiatrix for review, I was ecstatic. Even before I opened to the first page I was impressed. The cover itself, though paperback, is a work of art. A brief glimpse through the pages revealed that this was definitely something I wanted to read.
I was not disappointed. Mr. Whitfield wastes no time at all getting into the action. The first page starts out with a fight scene, vividly described in awe-inspiring, and heart racing, detail. The action does not slow down as the story continues, either. The depictions are graphic; a very good book, but not one for the faint of heart.
Gladiatrix tells the story of Lysandra, a Spartan priestess who is captured and sold to fight in the arena. Lysandra’s arrogance makes it difficult to feel any compassion towards her although I found myself sympathizing with her more often than not. Lysandra’s journey from Priestess of Athena to highly renowned arena fighter is full of unexpected twists and turns. If there’s one thing that this story isn’t, it’s predictable- Gladiatrix kept me guessing right up until the last page.
During the first half of the book I was a little concerned that Gladiatrix would fall too far into ‘sexual fantasy’ but during the second half of the book I found that this is definitely not the case. In fact, while at times a bit gratuitous, the sexual element in the first half is critical to the way that the story progresses in the second; knowing that, I don’t find that it detracts from the overall story at all, although I do wish that it had been better 'fitted' to the story in the beginning.
Historical accuracy is not something that I was expecting in a novel such as this, but I do feel that there was enough respect for history to make the story seem real to someone who knows something about the subject. It is fiction, and Mr. Whitfield clearly states that historical accuracy wasn’t his top priority. Still, it’s clear that at least enough research went into the writing of Gladiatrix to make it believable.
Overall, a very good story. Although I had my doubts at times, I highly recommend it. I wouldn't call it inspiring, but it is very entertaining. It’s fascinating to see what life might have been like for the female gladiator, and Gladiatrix paints a stunning picture.
Factual sources for suggested further reading:
The Gladiator: The Secret History of Rome's Warrior Slaves. Cambridge: Da Capo Press, 2000. ("The Scandal of the Female Gladiators," 27-29.)
"Female Gladiators." Encyclopaedia Romana. http://penelope.uchicago.edu/~grout/encyclopaedia_romana/gladiators/amazones.html
The Gladiators: History's Most Deadly Sport. Translated from the Dutch by Liz Waters. New York: St. Martin's Griffin, 2004. ("Female Gladiators," 76-79.)
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