Friday, April 06, 2007

The Spartan Slave - a new novel set in ancient Greece

I recently read "The Spartan Slave", which is set in ancient Greece and in ancient Phrygia, in a hidden valley where a very old culture flourishes in secret.

The hero of this novel, Leonidas, is the namesake of the famous Spartan hero who fought with his band of 300 warriors against hordes of Persians at the "Hot Gates", as the narrow pass near Thermopylae was known. This was the only known land route available to King Xerxes, who assembled a huge armada of ships for the invasion of Greece.

King Leonidas of Sparta delayed the Persian advance for three days at the narrow pass, giving up their lives to the last man, so that the rest of the Greeks could muster their defences and prevent the colonization of Greece by the Persians. On his way to the pass, the king stops by near a shepherd's hut and at the request of the old shepherd, spends the night with his young wife, who bears his son. This son eventually goes on to found his own tribe or clan in the mountains of Macedonia and our story begins here, two hundred years after the great battle, with the young Leonidas searching for a way out, as he is displeased with his family, particularly with his mother, who exhibits herself in a way that is not only brazen but deeply disturbing to the young hero.

As the novel progresses, Leonidas finds himself to be in a deeper predicament and turmoil than he originally bargained for and is unsure of his own identity as a Spartan. Forced by his father to make a journey to the mysterious kingdom of Mithir, he finds true love for the first time in his life, in the form of the young, beautiful princess Zarira. However, with this love comes an ultimate price, a choice that Leonidas makes voluntarily, to become her body slave, as she is already promised to a rival prince.

The customs, culture and the sexual openness of the people of Mithir is shocking to him at first but he slowly grows accustomed to their ways, especially after spending many long hours with the erudite Queen Mother of the mysterious kingdom, who is its absolute ruler. She not only teaches him about their culture and beliefs but even persuades him that the only option available for him to realize his true love is to become a slave.

Full of action and with very graphic and explicit scenes, this novel will shock those who are expecting a "run of the mill" erotic romance, as it takes this up several notches to an intense, white hot or even scorching description of what goes on within the Queen Mother's palace.

The finale is quite surprising with an unusual twist and is action packed, as Leonidas demonstrates his skill and prowess as a Spartan warrior when all alone, he faces down an entire contingent of royal guards.

I must recommend this novel highly to all readers of historical erotic romance or those who are looking for an unusual story in an exotic setting, which is penned with extraordinary imagination by the author.

For more information, please check out http://whiskeycreekpresstorrid.com

Sunday, July 09, 2006

New review - Sand of the Arena by James Duffy

This review was done by our regular contributing reviewer, Skarr One, for unrv.com, where it was first published. This is reproduced here with the kind permission of the reviewer and unrv.com

Here is the review of "Sand of the Arena", an exciting novel set in ancient Rome and the author is James Duffy. This is the first book in a series titled "The Gladiators of the Empire".

Begin Review:

From the very first line in the action packed first book that author James Duffy crafted in this series on the gladiators of the empire, you are transported to a gory, violent world that was ancient Rome, particularly in the arenas that recreated much of the action that the common plebeians hungered for. Packed to the gills, these sand filled arenas provided most of the entertainment that the weary citizens of Rome looked for, a vicarious substitute that provided all the excitement, danger and blood in a relatively safe environment, except for the occasional riot or accident of fate, when wild animals were set loose into the spectator stands, claiming several innocent lives.

The protagonist of the novel, Quintus Honorius Romanus, is the son of a respectable knight. From a young age, his father encourages him to attend these games, despite the inevitable backlash the boy was sure to receive from his mother, for neglecting his studies to pursue such barbarous vices. Politically, the games were a way of gaining public popularity and acclaim, as every noble in Rome would at some point in his career become a sponsor or editor of games, a sure way of garnering the requisite number of votes required for the next elections, whether for aedile, praetor or a number of other administrative positions. This was a well recognized fact and even emperors took pains to curb the enthusiasm of these officials, by enforcing limits on the type, the size, the number and the overall amount that could be expended on these games, with the most expensive affairs being reserved solely for the Emperor himself.

As the first novel in a series, Sand of the Arena proceeds at a furious pace from the very first scenes, which are recreations of sea battles in the flooded arena, with spectators sitting on the edge of their seats, witnessing a very real re-enactment of the violent sea battles between pirates and the Roman fleet. The gory battles are then followed by a banquet hosted by the Emperor himself, Nero, the famous lover of the arts, who creates a specially designed tableau for his appearance, surrounded by the most beautiful nymphets and dancers, with one of them creating a memorable first impression for our young hero. Quintus, although of a tender age, has absorbed enough from his intent watching to not only memorize the various fighting moves of the gladiators but also criticize their very techniques, a fact that surprises his father’s friend. Little does one realize how this initial passion for the deadly games would prove to be a life saving crutch for Quintus later on, as the inevitable turns of fate carve out a different life for him, with treachery lurking in his very household.


Quintus has a competitor in his household, a slave who is of almost the same age and who watches his success with murderous rage within his heart. This, ultimately, proves to be his downfall, as he spirals downward from his status of young knight into a seemingly bottomless pit of despair. While it may seem certainly predictable that a youth of a similar age but in a less advantageous social position may seem overly jealous, vindictive and even a little extreme in his passions, the story takes many unusual twists and turns from this simple premise, a true credit to the ingenuity of the author. Everything that occurs flows naturally, starting from an ill fated voyage to what is now the United Kingdom today but Britannia to the ancient Romans, a mere province of the Empire. In an unexpected storm on their way across the channel, Quintus loses many who are near and dear to him, including a trusty guardian, an ex-gladiator who teaches him a lot of skills, lessons that prove invaluable to him, particularly in the arena, which is his ultimate destination. Unfortunately, the one who survives along with him is his life long nemesis, the slave who switches identities with him and craftily convinces Quintus’s uncle and aunt that it is he, the slave, who is the young master and not Quintus.

From there on, Quintus is exposed to daily degradation, filthy, menial tasks that his upbringing had not prepared him for. However, in him lives a warrior like spirit and although he could have taken a simple revenge on his former slave, he lets him go and voluntarily finds a provincial arena in Britannia, where he can pursue his true passion, to become a renowned gladiator in his own right. Quintus thrives in his element at last, as he is accepted by the lanista into the run down arena and even puts on a show at his very first games, which is presided over by the impostor himself, who has now regained power, even magisterial authority, by being aided and abetted by his own aunt. The corruption that women bring to the table is exploited well by the author in the character of the scheming aunt, the real brains behind the rise to power of the lowly slave, who revels in the authority he now commands. He is still a pusillanimous weakling, something that Quintus is well aware of, from his previous encounters with the slave who usurped his status and his real identity.

The rest of the story is fairly straightforward as it pursues Quintus in his new life, as an apprentice gladiator in the rural corners of the Empire, far from Rome and its grand arenas, which is the real place where our hero wishes to excel in, as he is consumed by the desire that possesses each gladiator – become the crowd’s favorite, their joy. It is this ambition alone that drives him, although I suspect, revenge is never too far his thoughts.
The inner courage and spirit he possesses drives him to excel in everything he takes up and Quintus is soon not only an excellent fighter, but a man to be feared, as he dreams up a new incarnation for himself in the arena, a figure of towering strength, with tattoos to match, called Taurus, symbolizing the power of the famed minotaur and the terror it drove into men’s hearts. Along the way, he meets up with a host of colorful characters including one very skilled hunter from Africa, a man with exceptional hunting skills and a beautiful, bare breasted warrior with a charm all her own, Amazonia, a fitting epithet for one with her talents and her beauty.

Soon, Quintus finds himself in Rome, confronting his old nemesis and it is not how the events play out which is interesting but in the manner in which this occurs, with many interesting sidelights, facets and details that bring to life all the various elements that make this such a thrilling novel to read. A word of caution to those attempting to read this novel for the first time or to those who are yet to really read a work of adventure – make sure you have plenty of time on your hands, as you will be sure to miss work or appointments. I could not put this one down from the moment I started and the action and story proceeds at a break neck pace, with nary a dull moment, as they say. At the end of the book, I felt a little dissatisfied but then, I realized that this is only the first installment and I can’t wait to read the next book in the series.

Captivating and with colorful, accurate descriptions of the actual gladiatorial combat that must have occurred in those times, this novel is a must read for anyone who loves to read a good adventure story or a thriller in a historical setting. The fact that it is set in ancient Rome is actually irrelevant as there are all the classic elements to be found in this novel that ultimately, make up a great story – love, betrayal, passion, romance, action – this novel has it all. The fact that it is set in ancient Rome is a delightful plus and for people such as myself, who are extremely passionate about this period, I could not ask for anything more from this author. The period is described well and the author has obviously spent a lot of time researching the various gladiatorial techniques used, as well their fighting armor and equipment. There were quite a few things which I was not aware of and this proved very instructive and even educational, as I’m always looking to learn something new about ancient Rome.

The overall action in this novel is very cinematic and I’m sure someone in Hollywood will take note. I did enjoy “Gladiator” immensely, especially the fight scenes in the arena. However, they did not seem real and if you want realism and a sense of what it was truly like in those arenas, you must read this book. The author does not pull any punches and nor does he gloss over the barbarity and the brutality with which the gladiators were treated. Most of the gladiators lived under pretty harsh conditions and did undergo a daily dose of humiliation, as many, especially those who were recalcitrant, had little privacy and were under constant guard. However, there were those few, those exceptional fighters who were honored and revered by the public, with some of them leading fairly comfortable lives in later years, even marrying, buying a nice villa and so on. So, while it was not a level playing field by any means, there were opportunities to advance even in such a dangerously short lived profession, something that the author clearly highlights, in the character of his hero. In the end, the message is clear – everyone needs to have a goal, an ambition and if you have the passion and drive to succeed, you will do so, even the costs will be heavy. That message is borne out well by Quintus, as he overcomes the most adverse condition to finally triumph in his own manner, in the arena, on the Sand of the Arena.

One final comment is on the graphic scenes in the novel, some of which may be a little hot to handle for readers who are extremely sensitive. I did not find any of these to be more graphic than is necessary to convey the action and bring the scenes to life. The same may be said about the few sexual situations that are depicted. All of these scenes are necessary and flow seamlessly with the plot, without causing any undue distractions, a fault that is often the case in various other novels that I’ve read where these scenes detract from the main storyline. It is quite the opposite in this novel, where these scenes, I feel, actually enhance the book and make it seem more real, more contemporary, as we can then relate to the characters, even though they lived a couple of thousand years earlier. After all, human passions, ambitions, thoughts and other desires have remained relatively unchanged, despite thousands of years of progress, which is an incontrovertible fact that I have realized after researching the ancient period for some decades now.

Saturday, May 13, 2006

Review of "The Roman Games" by Alison Futrell - reviewed by Skarr One

This review was done for unrv.com by Skarr and he has kindly given me permission to publish this here, on my site, since he is a regular contributing reviewer. Please go to http://unrv.com for everything connected with ancient Roman history. Please also visit the reviewer's site, http://www.skarrone.com to read about the reviewer's own book ( a thrilling adventure novel set in ancient Rome, around 120 BC).

In 65 BC, Julius Caesar spent enormous sums of money to mount a lavish spectacle for the plebeians, one which had “rich and exciting production values”, to borrow a quote from the author of the book, “The Roman Games”. At this time, he was a mere aedile and according to Plutarch, he “threw into the shade all attempts at winning distinction in this way that had been made by previous holders of the office.” While Caesar may have certainly exceeded all expectations, he was by no means the first person to attempt gaining political mileage through the games, which were seen as a vehicle for attracting the attentions of the populace, particularly in the area of vote gathering and enhancing the status of the “editors” or presenters of the games.

Throughout Alison Futrell’s excellent book of sources on the Roman games, the author provides invaluable commentary to the various snippets of information, represented by blocked out gray text quoting ancient authors from Cicero to Juvenal to Ovid. Each source is categorized into appropriate sections in this book, which should be of primary interest not only to the student seeking to enhance their knowledge on the ancient games but also scholars who want to quickly reference a particular subject with a narrow focus on a certain aspect relating the games, from political implications, to the daily life of the gladiator as well as extracts relating to the conditions in the arena and participation of the ‘elites’ of Rome in the amphitheater.

While this book may not be read like a novel, as it does demand a certain level of concentration and ranges widely from the dry, political wit of Cicero to the more boisterous passages from Juvenal and even Petronius, it is absorbing in its own way, particularly for those readers who are passionate about Rome. I did find a number of things which I was not aware of and must commend the author for the painstaking way in which this body of sources has been compiled.

For instance, in Pompey’s second consulship in 55 BC, he put on a display where elephants were slaughtered en masse. However, these worthy creatures, having “given up hope of escape, they played on the sympathy of the crowd, entreating them with indescribable gestures. They moaned, as if wailing, and caused the spectators such distress that, forgetting Pompey and his lavish display specially devised to honor them, they rose in a body, in tears and heaped dire curses on Pompey, the effects of which he soon suffered.” This quote is from Pliny and I was moved by this passage and wondered how terrible it must have been for those poor elephants and I cursed Pompey myself for causing them so much anguish. He deserved what he got and if he was beheaded by the Egyptians, well, he certainly deserved his fate for the cruelty he showed.

In time, the spectacles given by prominent Republicans such as Caesar and Pompey faded in comparison to those of the emperors, with Augustus mounting one of the most extravagant shows, according to the memoirs of the emperor. Per his memorable quote, “three times I gave gladiatorial games in my own name and five times in the names of my sons and grandsons; at these displays about ten thousand men fought … I gave the people twenty-six venationes of African animals in either the circus, the forum or the amphitheater; about thirty five hundred animals were killed in these spectacles.”

Just reading this made my blood literally boil with anger as I consider the enormity of the sums involved that could have benefited the people in other ways as well as the sheer waste of the spectacles that the emperors mounted for “the people”. What a quantity of blood must have been spilt in a few days and the imagination staggers at the sheer indifference that must have been displayed by the vast multitude to the slaughter happening before their very eyes. It is always difficult to stomach such accounts, especially with our modern perceptions and sensibilities. One truly realizes after reading such accounts how monstrous it must have been to live in those times and the thought of going to see such mass killings for the sake of “spectacle” turns my stomach.

The matter doesn’t end just with Augustus as each successive emperor tries to outdo his predecessor in the matter of presentation, with Nero and Commodus probably the worst of a very bad lot. Nero delighted in presenting Christians, his favorite target group for persecution, while Commodus presented himself in the arena. Per a quote from Dio Cassius, he (Commodus) “managed to kill a man now and then, and in making close passes with others, as if trying to clip off a bit of their hair, he sliced off the noses of some, the ears of others, and sundry features of still others, but in public he refrained from using steel and shedding human blood.” Truly monstrous and a hypocrite to boot!

The author asks an interesting question as to why emperors stooped to this level. However, the answer is less than satisfying, as can be expected, since it is difficult to fathom the true depth of power that a single man commanded over all others. In more modern times, this same, rapacious blood thirstiness has been demonstrated time and again where one individual holds more power than is commensurate either with his understanding or responsibility. There is a lesson to be learned here and we have to give thanks that today, such power is limited to a specific number of years, as untold havoc could result. If there is one thing that is certain, it is that history repeats itself, given enough time as basic human nature has not really changed over the centuries. We are no doubt a little more informed, perhaps even a little more “enlightened” but the same dangers exist today, as it did before, thousands of years ago.

Throughout this book, there are passages that will definitely provoke your interest, if not your curiosity, as the author has collected these from a variety of sources and time periods. For example, there is even a quote from Ovid, where he outlines some really specific ways in which you can seduce someone at the games. This is pretty hilarious and Ovid, true to form, goes right to the techniques that need to be employed, from opening lines such as “Whose colors are those?”, obviously referring to the chariot race teams, which were named after the primary colors – red, green, blue and so on to other tactics such as sitting close to her or brushing off imaginary dust from her blouse.

Speaking about love, there is also an interesting tidbit about the dictator Sulla, who meets his last wife at the games, according to Plutarch. Valeria, a beautiful young woman, passes behind the dictator and pulls off a little piece of wool from his toga before going to her seat in the row behind him. As the surprised Sulla turns to look at her, she says, “There’s no reason to be surprised, Dictator. I only want to have a little bit of your good luck for myself.” This little incident sparks a romance between the two as they begin exchanging looks, then smiles and per Plutarch, negotiations began for marriage at the end. This was a charming story and one which I was not aware of.

It is perhaps difficult to pick out one section over the other, as the quotes are grouped by theme, but the section, “The Life of the Gladiator” offers some interesting perspective on the daily lives of the men (and women, for there were women fighters, including one female fighter who kills a lion, according to one of the quotes). Romans loved to gossip and one of the more frequent ones involve affairs between “high-born ladies and the low-born objects of their desires, rendered even more desirable because of the thrill of violating status expectations by associating with one so vile.” One woman singled out is the mother of emperor Commodus and it is widely believed by many at the time that the empress Faustina conceived him out of wedlock as he “was actually begotten in adultery, since it is reasonably well known that Faustina chose both sailors and gladiators as paramours for herself at Caieta.” It’s a pity that the movie “Gladiator” did not touch upon this particular quote from the Historia Augusta, Marcus Antoninius 19.

Gladiators must have endured countless humiliations on a daily basis; a fact that is clearly brought out in extracts from Seneca’s Letters and led many of them to commit suicide. Seneca moralizes the issue for his friend and I was moved by his account as he talks about a German who was preparing for a bestiarii, as part of a morning exhibition and “withdrew in order to relieve himself – the only thing he was allowed to do in secret and without the presence of a guard. While so engaged, he seized the stick of wood, tipped with a sponge, which was used for the vilest purposes and stuffed it, just as it was, down his throat; thus he blocked up his windpipe and choked the breath from his body …. What a brave fellow!” While many modern readers may be moved to pity on reading this, Seneca’s observations seem to center on his bravery and he tells his friend that he “surely deserved to be allowed to choose his fate! How bravely he would have wielded a sword…” This shows a very cynical view, in my opinion and a callousness that must have been pervasive at the time.

While certain gladiators were treated as no more than beasts, such as the German above, there were many who had loving wives, a family and even children of their own, whom they honored and cherished. The author quotes a two sided tombstone for the family of one gladiator who, with his wife, “commemorated the passing of their toddler-age son, and then honored his deceased wife with an inscription on the other side.” Gladiators also lived in familia, as they typically belonged to the same ludus. Since only one ludus furnished gladiators for a given set of games, they would have had to fight each other and possibly wound or kill close friends they had formed during their time together. This fact is brought out very vividly in an old movie, “Spartacus”, where the black gladiator refuses to give out his name to Spartacus, saying that if they became friends, it would be difficult as they might have to kill each other in the arena.

Apart from the numerous quotes and extracts and commentary which are fascinating, there are also various photographs that enhance the overall quality of the book. The famous Caracalla baths had quite a few portraits of gladiators and I guess these were the sports heroes of the time, with not only graffiti on the walls of the city but life like images that the general public could admire.

All in all, I would highly recommend this book to anyone interested in the Roman games and also for the casual as well as the serious student of ancient history. I think it is an excellent reference book to have in your library or collection and I would urge anyone with more than a passing interest in ancient Rome to acquire a copy.

This book is available at http://www.amazon.com

Wednesday, May 03, 2006

Book Review - The Roman Games by Alison Futrell

Our historical reviewer, Skarr One, has just completed his review of "The Roman Games" by Alison Futrell for http://unrv.com

Please go to the above site for details. Once it gets published on that site, Skarr will send his review for publication on this site, courtesy of the reviewer and unrv.com

Monday, March 27, 2006

The Roman Games by Alison Futrell

Skarr, one of our regular contributors to this site by way of reviews, has recently received a copy of "The Roman Games" by Alison Futrell for review from :

http://unrv.com

I have just been alerted that he will review this work, which is a compilation of various historical sources on the Roman Games, will be reviewed shortly and will be published at the history site above as well as on this site.

Thanks, Skarr and looking forward to receiving your review.

"The Roman Games" is published by Blackwell Publishing (www.blackwellpublishing.com) and the author is Associate Professor of Roman History at the University of Arizona in Tucson. According to the book, this work "presents a wealth of material that casts light on the rich tradition of Roman spectacle, with special focus on gladiatorial combat and chariot racing."

To me, Roman Games have always held a profound fascination and I'm really looking forward to the review and will also read the book shortly. Popular movies like "Gladiator" and "Ben-Hur" have already captured the public's imagination in different decades and I do think that the chariot race in "Ben-Hur" is one of the best depictions of this sport that will ever be filmed. I don't think they'll ever be able to film a race like that, using live horses and actors who spent months training how to control a team of four horses to run around the oval track. Millions were spent (translate that into hundreds of millions it would cost today) to stage that event for film.

Thursday, March 16, 2006

Review : A.D. 62 Pompeii by Rebecca East

This novel is a fanciful work of imagination by the author, Rebecca East, as it traces the hypothetical journey of a woman who is stranded in Pompeii during the first century AD.

The story begins in the modern world with a time travel experiment that goes wrong. Finding herself in the first century without the proper means to assert herself, our heroine, Miranda, is forced into slavery and has to rely on her modern wits to survive in that harsh reality.

As a historical writer, I found some of the sequences too tame and consequently, a little unbelievable, particularly in the manner in which she is treated. There is an unreal quality throughout the book and the pacing is also a little slow. For example, the author hints but does not touch upon the numerous sexual liaisons among the slaves, which are carried out in secret. However, by some incredible piece of luck, she remains utterly chaste and outside of this inner circle.

Writing with an almost Victorian sense of prudery, the novel lacks any real vigor, either in its depiction of the social lives of the slaves or masters or the violent times during which it is set in. It is almost as if the author took a watercolor brush and painted a nice, pristine picture of the ancient world instead of depicting the harsh realities and the grim existence of the people she talks about.

There are some nice touches here and there but they are too few and far in between. All in all, I found this lacking in excitement and although the historical detail is rich in parts and shows the obvious scholarship of the author, I don't think this works well as a novel.

The characters don't engage in interesting conversations and it is as if the protagonist is stuck behind a glass, acting solely as observer with a detached mindset. This is a major shortcoming in any novel and that would explain the unreal quality I was referring to in an earlier paragraph.

On a scale of 1 to 5, I would award a maximum of three stars to this work, mostly for its historical detail. There is considerable potential in the novel and a skilled editor would have enhanced its content a great deal.

The book is available at www.amazon.com for those who are interested. I would recommend that they purchase this if they are interested in Roman history and would like to learn a little about Pompeii.

Wednesday, February 22, 2006

The Spartan Beach Boy - by Alexandros

This is one steamy tale set in ancient Greece, around 175 BC.

Named after two heroic Greek characters, Jason and Ajax are buddies and for some peculiar reason, Ajax calls the hero of the story, Jason, a "Beach Boy". This may sound strange to fans of the popular group but is actually referring to Jason's tragic role in advertently causing the ruin of a family based in his home island.

The dynamics are all set in this short novel for a surprising finish at the end, as Jason struggles to overcome his feelings of guilt and redeem his love for the lovely Minerva, whose family he helped ruin.

Should Jason seek the help of his treacherous master, who will stoop at nothing to exploit him as well as his bride to be or should he allow them to go to their respective fates? Given the times, there is little choice for Minerva's family except to be sold into slavery or worse.

Filled with highly erotic situations as well as tense moments, this is a wonderfully penned story and should engage the reader from start to finish. The strong characters, the situations they find themselves and the rich descriptions of a historical nature should enthrall most readers.

Ultimately, this is a powerful romance / love story with a clever ending and some really exciting, if explicit encounters. I really enjoyed reading this one and am eagerly awating other works from this exciting author.

With a release date of March, 2006, be sure to check out http://whiskeycreekpresstorrid.com for more details.