Rating: 3.25 stars
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Length: Novel

 

Nursing a broken heart, Maius moves away from his family in Britannia to the legion Fort Vetera where he now serves as the doctor for the Fourth Cohort. It’s there he meets Damianus, a soldier with a heart as large as the ocean and the subtlety of an avalanche, and Philyssam, his mentor and teacher whose subtle sense of humor and compassion help make Maius feel at home in this strange, far away place. The two of them take Maius with them to the fights, fights not so grand as the ones in Rome, but still exciting enough.

There, Maius sees Rufulus, the champion and much beloved gladiator of Traiana. The man’s red hair catches Maius’ eyes; it’s a more vivid shade of red than the man who broke his heart, the man he left behind and who married Maius’ sister. On a whim, Maius invites Rufulus to join him in a private room that night, leading to the start of a relationship that begins as a night’s pleasure, but ends up being so much more.

The Gladiator’s Passion is part of the Eagle’s Honor series set in ancient Rome, but is a standalone; you don’t need to have read the other books in the series to be able to enjoy this one. Maius is a calm, gentle, friendly man who makes an effort to get to know the men he’s in charge of tending, always quick to see to any hurts or injuries no matter how small. He’s social, methodical, and calculating. Maius knows what he wants, and approaches any impediment with a thoughtful air, such as when Rufulus (whose name is actually Caomh; Rufulus is the slave name he was given) flinches at certain touches or grows angry at certain intimacies.

Caomh, along with the survivors of his ship, was enslaved by the Romans and paraded in Rome, in chains. He was given to a legate as a slave and, while not explicitly stated, it’s heavily implied there was rape, as well as abuse. Caomh was then sold to the gladiatorial arena with the hopes that he’d be killed; his previous master was also cruel enough to stipulate that Caomh could not win his freedom through victories and must instead find ways to make enough money to buy his freedom — a price that grows higher with every fight he wins.

Along with what winnings he has, Caomh has turned to sex work. His one caveat: He is the one doing the fucking; he does not and will not take the receptive position. For Romans, this is a point of pride, as no “real man” would allow himself to be penetrated, certainly not by a slave. Fortunately, there are other things that can be done and enjoyed, but for Maius, raised in the wilds of Britannia, it isn’t an issue. He is more than willing and wanting of all of Caomh’s attentions, from kissing — something that soon becomes both of their favorite pastimes — to full penetrative sex. He doesn’t see giving Caomh a blowjob (or three) as demeaning; he sees it as something they both enjoy.

And there’s a lot of that happening in this book. The two men meeting up at the inn and having sex is the greatest focus. The world building is very light, with some food or religion or shopping trips adding a hint of a flavor, but the Roman world isn’t the focus of this story. The sex is. The world of the fort is barely touched on; the city and houses and lives of the people Maius interacts with have a moment here and there, but by and large, the focus is just on the two men coming together. The story also never deals with the power disparity between the two men, one a free man and one a slave. Even at the end, when Caomh’s position of an enslaved man is brought into sharper focus, it’s brushed aside with no comment.

Honestly, this book didn’t work for me. The characters are fine, the writing is decent, but I found myself wanting more. More of the world, more of the characters, more of the plot, and it simply wasn’t there. If you’re in the mood for a hint of history and characters cuddling, this book might work for you. For me, it just missed the mark.