Rating: 4.75 stars
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Punished for laziness and disobedience, gladiator Anazâr has been contracted to a lanista specializing in female gladiators, or gladiatrices, to train them for two months to fight in the arena like the gladiators. With the possibility of freedom on the table, Anazâr is determined to please his new master, Lucius Marianus, in any way possible. Marianus seems to be a good and honest master. He doesn’t ask more of Anazâr than he can handle. Anazâr spends hours upon hours training the untried, violent, and disheartened group of gladiatrices, eventually seeing progress. Every evening he makes a report to Marianus in which he outlines the progress of his charges. He also attends to any needs of his master – be they sexual or otherwise.
At first, his road to freedom seems marked and easy to follow, but soon Anazâr finds that he has stepped into the middle of a brotherly feud. Upon making his first report, as well as his first intimate service to Marianus, Anazâr is introduced to his master’s brother, Felix, the black sheep of the family. Felix is rebellious, unpredictable, and condescending. And after spending time in Felix’s presence, Anazâr isn’t convinced that he is trustworthy or sincere.
After a trip to the baths with the gladiatrices in which Felix joined and openly taunted Anazâr, an attempt is made on Felix’s life, and Anazâr saves him. Another attempt on Felix’s life weeks later leaves Anazâr confused. His loyalties lie with the Marianus household, even more specifically with Lucius Marianus, so when Felix approaches him with news of deceit and treachery, Anazâr isn’t sure what to believe.
A journey to the truth leads to a complicated love and a further complicated life. Lies and deception, love and loyalty, all battle within Anazâr in a war that may end up taking his life.
I am absolutely in awe of this remarkable story. It is definitely one of my favorite books this year. I don’t know where to start. As I was easily taken in by Starz series Spartacus, this story of gladiators, deceit, and mystery is right up my alley. The lies and deception, plotting and scheming, forbidden love, the fight for freedom, this story is amazing in so many ways. I had a hard time putting it down.
I’ll begin with Anazâr – a slave, a gladiator, a man who wants nothing more than to be free. Marked with the tattoo on his forehead that symbolizes a runaway slave, Anazâr is afraid that he will never truly be free. He is strong in both physical strength and strength of character. And contrary to belief in that period of time, he was smart – able to discern truth from lie. Sadly, he’s pulled into a scheme by his master’s family because of his seemingly unwavering loyalty.
Felix is a very complex character. On the outside he is cocky, untrustworthy, undependable, and crass. But in private – with Anazâr – he is brilliant, vulnerable, brave, and sincere. His past haunts him, but he is unable to avoid falling in love with Anazâr. The vulnerability, the love that Felix shows for Anazâr is what makes him such an amazing character.
Anazâr’s attraction to Felix comes slowly, learning whether he is able to trust the man first. But the connection between them is explosive once they finally give in to it. The love that they share is powerful. The bond, the loyalty between them is unwavering and unbreakable.
I must mention the wonderful cast of characters as well. Lucius Marianus and Aelia, his wife, are so fabulously written as such likable antagonists, at least in the beginning. Each of the gladiatrices were given such personality and wonderful, albeit, sad histories – namely Amanikhabale, Rhakshna, and Cassia. The slaves, the gladiators, the noblemen were so captivating in their own individual way.
This storyline is very plot driven and fast-paced, although the many events happen over a period of several months. The feud between brothers, the questions surrounding the mystery – who is at fault? Which brother is the most trustworthy? Which is the traitor? The secrets, the forbidden love, it is all very scandalous and romantic.
Action and violence are a big part of this book, but it was also a major part of the life of a gladiator. The authors present it in a way that is quite believable and realistic, but not overly gory. There is also a warning of dubious consent that comes with this book. Rest assured it is quite mild compared to some I’ve read. I find it a little questionable only because the character submitted, although his choice was to either submit or risk disappointing the master.
The author’s world building of their vision of Ancient Rome is exceptional. It is obvious that Belleau and Vane did their homework when researching the time period and area. Not that I claim to be an expert – because honestly the extent of my knowledge of that time period comes from TV and movies – but I was able to picture the characters, setting, and events easily. There is a glossary and some author’s notes at the end of the book, and, if you want to read this story and have little to no knowledge of the time period, I recommend that that you begin with those two sections and then read this amazing book.
I have only one very small quibble with this story, and that is the more modern speech. There isn’t a lot of it, but amongst the somewhat formal speech of Ancient Rome there were a few words thrown in that I felt were out of place – willy-nilly and hubbub, for example. It was a very minor distraction, but still a distraction.
Mark of the Gladiator is full of mystery and intrigue, love and betrayal. It is a beautifully written tale of lies, love, trust, and murder. It had me glued to my seat from beginning to end. I highly recommend Mark of the Gladiator by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane.
Mark of the Gladiator by Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane is a standalone novel in the Warriors of Rome collection published by Riptide Publishing.
Cover: This is a great cover by Petite-Madame VonApple. Quite fitting and beautifully illustrated. Well done.