Rating: 3.5 stars
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Saevius cannot remember the taste of freedom. Instead he has spent his years as a gladiator, killing or being killed, always under the hand of a lanista—a trainer who told him when he ate, fought, and sometimes, he felt, even when he breathed. So imagine his delight—his gratitude—at being sold to a nobleman to serve him. No more arenas, endless preparation to fight, blood, and dust. Now Saevius would be a bodyguard and live out what he hoped were the rest of his days in an easier existence.
Or so he thought. For Saevius comes to find out that he is being sent to one of the most brutal lanistas (trainer and keeper of gladiators) ever known. Not only that, but he is being sent as a spy to find out who is bedding the wife (Lady Verina) of the nobleman who now owns him, Junius Calvus Laurea. And lest Saevius think of shirking at his job as spy, or worse yet letting it slip as to what he is doing, Calvius has devised a way that he can expose Saevius as a thief, a crime that would most assuredly bring his swift and tortured death.
So, off Saevius goes to the hated and feared lanista, Drusus, whose bloodthirsty and severe reputation precedes him and has made him into one of the most feared—and respected—lanistas around. Saevius is shocked when he finally meets Drusus, for here is no giant of a man able to subdue fierce gladiators with just a look, but, instead, a small statured man who is always surrounded by towering bodyguards and is never seen without his breastplate. For someone so feared, Drusus’ appearance doesn’t invoke fear. Rather his delicate appearance makes one even more wary of the man, leaving Saevius unbalanced and, yes, just a little in lust.
Little does Saevius know he is not the only one keeping a secret safe—and not the only one whose secret can lead to death.
Left Hand of Calvus by L.A. Witt was one action packed moment after another. This author’s ability to create a world and thrust you deep into the story, making you feel as though you are walking the same soil as her characters, is unparalleled. Witt knows how to weave a story so real you feel you are right there and her characters are so very well drawn, so full and rich that you are instantly pulled in and emotions of your own are evoked relentlessly.
This was no ordinary gladiator story but an intricately woven mystery and a burgeoning love story wrapped up in one. I found myself sitting on the edge of my seat, wrapped up in the novel and totally involved with the story. It was so visceral—the arena, the fighting, the sweat and sinew of each man that I found myself cheering on Saevius from the very first pages.
So it was with utter shock that I read the last portions of this novel and sat back in utter dismay at the conclusion. While I cannot divulge where this novel lead, I must comment that what was a five-star read, a gritty and realistic story, took on a much less positive view after certain secrets were revealed. For this reviewer, the story took such a severe right turn that I had to shake my head and cry foul. Left Hand of Calvus simply lost its believability and I shook my head at the choice the author made that, for me, left a great story demoted to a simply okay one. I was disappointed at what I felt was a contrived ending that left the rest of the novel now looking less than true to itself and more like a vehicle for a surprise and untrue ending.
So, dear reader, it is with a bit of dismay that what began and was, for most of the novel, a five-star read for me, now became a less than stellar story overall. I do encourage you to pick up this book and decide for yourself. It is a very well written story with an unfortunate conclusion.