Vita & the Gladiator

Written by Ally Sherrick
Review by Elizabeth Hawksley

It is not that long ago that young girls who loved history were hard-pressed to find a thrilling historical adventure story with an adventurous heroine. It was boys who had the adventures (as in Rosemary Sutcliff’s Roman stories), while girls had to be content with a supporting role.

Fortunately, things are changing here, and Ally Sherrick, with her terrific pacy novels for readers of 10 plus, is one of the stand-out authors leading the way. In Vita and the Gladiator, our heroine, Vita, daughter of an important Roman, suddenly finds herself struggling as a slave whose life is worth very little and who is expected to behave as her owners see fit. Punishments are harsh and swift, and Vita’s survival looks increasingly unlikely.

Vita must learn – and fast – to sum up an enemy’s weakness, to judge possible friends by criteria other than class, and to follow new, perhaps more intuitive guidelines for a successful attack such as: ‘eyes, ears, hearts.’

Vita learns to cope with dirt, wounds, semi-starvation, and casual cruelty, and, at the same time, to be alert for the smallest crack in her enemy’s defences. Sherrick’s heroines are a far cry from the traditional heroine, trained to be silent and obedient; and modern historical heroines, like Vita, exercise a wide range of choices – often dangerous as well as bold and far-thinking. Vita is encouraged to develop her own talents.

I applaud this vigorous new take on historical fiction; it opened my eyes to a wider range of historical possibilities and a greater variety of historical settings. At the same time, it asks different and possibly confrontational questions about female lives and challenges traditional (male) thinking on subjects which have previously registered as being of minor interest only. This fast-paced novel is also a terrific read! Bravo, Ally Sherrick.