Review: Mark of the Gladiator

Mark of the Gladiator
Mark of the Gladiator by Heidi Belleau
My rating: 4 of 5 stars

This is an absolutely phenomenal book that should not be overlooked. If you’re the type of person that likes a m/m romance set during the time of the Roman Empire, then this is the book for you. This book is incredibly well-researched and visceral. At the heart of it all is a love story set during a time where love was hard to come by and loyalty even moreso.

Anazar is a gladiator who disobeys a direct order in the arena. Instead of being put to the cross or sent to the mines or worse, his master instead lends him to another citizen who has decided on the risky business venture of running a female ludus. The last instructor raped and demoralized the women, so Anazar is perfect for the job as far as his new master is concerned. Once he is serving Marianus, Anazar gets drawn further into Roman politics, particularly involving Marianus and his brother, Felix, who Anazar just can’t bring himself to hate. Meanwhile, time is running short for him to get his female warriors into fighting condition, and there’s more than one barrier preventing him from completing their training.

I absolutely loved the subplot of Anazar training his female warriors. Women gladiators were often the joke entertainment of the time, participating in what basically was the equivalent of ancient mud wrestling. At the same time, love between two men was only acceptable in certain conditions.

That being said, I enjoyed that the sexual politics of the time were included in the novel. The whole notion that slaves were property to be used in any way the master saw fit, unless it put the slave in a position of power over the master. It was handled extremely well, and I have to applaud the authors’ tact with the subject matter.

There was just one thing that kept me from giving the book five stars. I don’t want to give too much away, but this is a romance, so naturally readers are going to want a happy ending. The obvious way to do this would be to gran Anazar his freedom. So, without spoiling too much, when they go to free him, there’s a technicality in the plan, a historically accurate technicality, to be precise. Anazar and Felix angst about it for exactly one page before someone comes chasing after them and handwaves the technicality away. With no explanations given. I much rather would have preferred if they would have ignored the technicality altogether, rather than throwing it in there for the characters to angst about for a half a page and then magically get rid of it.

Other than that, this is a wonderful book, much like a bubble bath, and if you are looking for something a sexy romance between two men set in the Roman Ages, this is the book for you.

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