Sword of the Gladiatrix
The fairly standard narrative framework of the typical gladiator novel – heroic figure enslaved and forced to fight for the amusement of decadent Romans – is given a gender-twist in Faith Justice’s novel Sword of the Gladiatrix, in which two heroic women, Afra, a scout and animal-trainer from the Kingdom of Kush in Africa, and Cinnia, “warrior-bard” and former servant of Queen Boudica of the Iceni in Britannia, find themselves brought together in the bloodthirsty world of Nero’s Rome.
The predictable nature of the story – including the inevitable death-match between the two friends – is considerably enlivened by Justice’s sure-footed pacing and excellent ear for dialogue, especially effective in bringing her two main characters to life. The complacent evil of the bored Romans is laid on a bit thick in parts of the story, but the huge number of colorful period details more than compensates.
Through Justice’s prose, we really feel what it was like to attend gladiatorial games in a Roman arena, and the author’s research also comes in handy in giving great depth to the native beliefs of both Cinnia and especially Afra. By the exciting close of the novel, readers will care very much about both these women – fans of Roman historical fiction should not miss this title.