Thursday, 6 March 2008

‘Gladiatrix’ – Russell Whitfield (Myrmidon Books)

It wasn’t until I saw ‘Gladiator’, for the first time, that I realised women also fought in the arena. I never really paid much attention in history classes and that one must have slipped me by… It didn’t slip Russel Whitfield’s notice though and he’s gone and written a book about it. This is the first historical novel that I’ve reviewed and to be honest I wasn’t sure, at first, if it would fit into the remit of what I’m trying to do with the blog. I picked it up anyway and enjoyed it so much that it definitely gets a mention here.
The plot is simple. Lysandra is a Spartan warrior priestess who has been shipwrecked and sold into slavery as a Gladiatrix, a female gladiator who provides the ‘warm up act’ to the crowd before the main events. It’s a slim hope but the only possible way that Lysandra can regain her freedom is by victory in the arena. Lysandra’s Spartan upbringing will help her survive the arena but she must still contend with the enmity of Sorina, the Gladiatrix Prima, and the brutal Numidian trainer Nastasen…
I really enjoyed reading ‘Gladiatrix’ and I reckon if you’re a fan of historical fiction by authors such as Simon Scarrow and Conn Iggulden then you could do a lot worse than pick this one up for a read. As the title suggests, a lot of the action takes place in the arena and after reading some of the fights I was left feeling almost as bruised as I would have done if I’d been fighting for real! Whitfield isn’t one of those authors who has their characters rushing in waving a sword, there’s evidence of real thought regarding the consequences of each sword thrust and shield block. The fight scenes can sometimes drag on for a bit though, sometimes this serves to increase the tension but at other times it just seems unnecessary (especially if you know that a certain character will win through) and almost cartoonish. The same goes for the ‘romantic sub-plot’ between Lysandra and one of the other gladiatrices, while there were some real poignant moments I’m pretty sure that the sex scenes perhaps didn’t need to be dwelt upon at such great length. It’s cool if you like that kind of thing in your reading but I wanted to find out what happened next!
On the whole though, ‘Gladiatrix’ is an entertaining read that has an air of thorough research about it. Whitfield steers the reader through a series of events in the arena (as well as some hard hitting stuff outside it!) that contrasts well with Lysandra’s journey to reconcile her Spartan upbringing with her new life as a slave. There are plenty of twists and turns and you’re also well advised not to get too attached any particular character; life in the arena is harsh and death is never far away!
If you’ve ever wondered what ‘Gladiator’ would have been like with Angelina Jolie in the main role (surely it’s not just me?) then give ‘Gladiatrix’ a try ;o)

Eight out of Ten


Tia Nevitt said...

Several years ago, I read a novel about a female gladiator, but unfortunately I no longer have the book. (How the heck did that happen?) I love books set in ancient times; it's a fascinating time to me.

Russell Whitfield said...

Hi Graeme - thanks so much for taking time out to review Gladiatrix, it's much apprecaited. And no, you're not the only one to have imagined what Gladiator would have been like with Angelina Jolie. Though if I'm honest, Lysandra is more Mila Jocavitch in my minds eye. Still, Gladiatrix II is being written now *lol*.

TIA - by far the best book about female gladiators is "The Light Bearer" by Donna Gillespie. It's a huge work, comparible with Mary Renault at her very best - if you've not read it, please do. The only other book on female gladiators I can think of are POD books - "The Gladiator Isarna" by Sara Pacher and "Liberty" by Kim Everson and "Crimson Dawn" by Barbara Korsness. Hope that jogs your memory!



Tam said...

I recently picked up Gladiatrix for a bit of a read, and I'm awfully pleased that I did. For me, it was one of those books where the pages just seem to turn themselves.

I love the character of Lysandra, winning people over despite her arrogance.

Glad to hear the author is working on a sequel. I'll be picking it up as soon as it hits the shelves. Interesting to see where he takes Lysandra, will her achillia's heel always be her naivity?

The sex scene was a bit lengthy, schoolkids can't really tear it out and pass it around class as it's about 4 pages long!
I've never seen one so detailed before, most authors take you up to a point and then leave it to the imagination from there.
I hear this is because a lot of them simply cannot write erotica. Russell Whitfield definately can.

I think it was a necessary scene too. It sells the reader on the powerful bond that existed between Lysandra and Eirewann (sp?) that is so central to the plot. Much more so than a simple "then they turned out the lights" would have.

Also, I'm a married man, and when I bought a book about female gladiators, I expect lots of brutality and sex.

I get enough brutality at home, so it would have been a shame to miss out on the sex. :)

Tam said...

Forgot to say, great blog Greame, I'll be sure to subscribe to your feed.

Anonymous said...

Is there going to be a film on Gladiatrix?

It was a fascinating read and managed to ge me out of a detention for having overdue books at school as I recommended it to the Librarian =P

Also, some fantastic research on the Macedonian phalanx, military customs etc, really served to make the book seem far more real to me..

Will there be anymore of these books to make a series? Or is this a one time thing only?

Anonymous said...

I found Gladiatrix at the library Frriday morning,I started it that day, I didn't move all Saturday and even gave my daughter money for a take-away, I finished the book Sat evening and can truly say I was completely swept up into the arena and the excitment, joy, and pain of it, I felt as though I was a fourth person woven into the threads of fate between \Lysandra, Sorina and Eirianwen. I have read many novels about Rome and the idea of there being Gladiatrix's is completeley new to me. Well done Russell I shall definately follow your future books.