2006, Historical Romance (160s A. D. Londinium and Rome)
HQN, $14.95, 464 pages, Amazon ASIN 0373771347
Roman Britannia is not an historical period in which I usually dabble, but I so enjoyed Joy Nash's last two books with that setting that I thought I'd give Liberty a try. I am sorry that I did, for, while historical detail abounds and I learned more about gladiators than I really wanted to know, the emotional intensity between the leads was completely lacking.
Rhyddes, whose Celt name means "Freedom" (and whose pronunciation guide of "hree-dthes" was singularly unhelpful) was sold as slave by her father to pay the Roman taxes. On the way to Londinium, she is brutally sodomized by the soldiers, but her virginity kept intact, for it will increase her price. On the auction block, she is bought by Jamil, an Egyptian Roman citizen and Londinium's premiere gladiator trainer. He has been looking for a woman to train for the arena - having a gladiatrix in one's stable is all the rage - and thinks he has found her in this angry, stoic slave.
To do so he outbid Marcus Calpurnius, son of Britannia's Roman governor, who took quite a shine to Rhyddes. Here's my first gripe about Liberty: Rhyddes has been sodomized, is standing naked on the slave block, while Marcus fondles her breasts, checking out the merchandise. But because he is The Hero, Rhyddes gets all tingly inside? Nope. I didn't believe it. Not in that situation.
Marcus has had extensive gladiator training and loves participating in the arena bouts, even though it is scandalous for a nobleman to do so. His father forces him to retire from the ring and become engaged to the daughter of a powerful Roman senator. While he can no longer battle in the arena, Marcus still goes to the gladiator school to spar and there he becomes obsessed with Rhyddes who, after her first win was allowed to choose her own gladiator name: Libertas, meaning Liberty.
Here's my second (and biggest) gripe about the book: Rhyddes and Marcus look at each other at gladiator practice and at arena contests. They have almost no interaction with each other. Under those circumstances, I can understand a healthy, mutual lust developing though nothing deeper. But Marcus is desperate to get Rhyddes into bed and frets far too much over what she thinks of him. Rhyddes is interested in bedding Marcus as well, but frets far too much over his engagement while she refuses to lie with a Roman who subjugated her people and made her a slave. She goes on and on about the "war between her head and her heart" - what war? She doesn't know him well enough for her heart to be engaged.
Marcus and Rhyddes spend much time apart while in Britannia and they become even more separated as all repair to Rome, where political intrigue and machinations to unseat Emperor Marcus Aurelius abound in tedious detail. I never believed that either of them could fall in love on such superficial contact or that it could be sustained during their long separations.
The information on the every day lives of Roman slaves and gladiators was interesting, and is a world I'd never have explored without having read this book, but as a romance novel, Liberty failed for me.
-- Cheryl Sneed
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