Rating: 4.5 stars out of 5
Former gladiator Saevius is certain fortune’s smiling on him when a Pompeiian politician buys him to be his bodyguard. But then his new master, Laurea Calvus, orders Saevius to discover the gladiator with whom his wife is having an affair. In order to do that, Saevius must return to the arena, training alongside the very men on whom he’s spying. Worse, he’s now under the command of Drusus, a notoriously cruel—and yet strangely intriguing—lanista.
But Saevius’s ruse is the least of his worries. There’s more to the affair than a wife humiliating her prominent husband, and now Saevius is part of a dangerous game between dangerous men. He isn’t the only gladiator out to expose the Lady Verina’s transgressions, and her husband wants more than just the guilty man’s name.
When Saevius learns the truth about the affair, he’s left with no choice but to betray one of his masters: one he’s come to fear, one he’s come to respect, and both of whom could have him killed without repercussion. For the first time in his life, the most dangerous place for this gladiator isn’t the arena.
In The Left Hand Of Calvus Ann Gallagher has recreated the ancient city of Pompeii, complete with corrupt politicians, cheating wives, and the desperate, hard and often short lives of gladiators and the ludus. Gladiator Saevius’ fate changes when he’s sold as a bodyguard to Pompeiian Politician Laurea Calvus. Thinking himself free of the fighting, it turns out that his new master, wants a spy within the ludus of the famed and infamous lanista Drusus. To fulfill his master’s orders, it’s back into the arena as a gladiator that Saevius must go.
I loved how vividly alive Pompeii feels here, from the overcrowding, poverty, and stench that arises in the poor section of the city to the behavior of the powerful at every level of society and its impact on others (political, social, and even economic). It gives the story such a wonderfully rich foundation as well as framework for the story and characters.
It also gives most readers an additional point of reference because we are well aware of what awaits the citizens of Pompeii in the future adding a layer of urgency and poignancy.
For me it’s less a romance and more a wonderful piece of historical fiction that happens to have an element of romance in it (if you are looking for sex you won’t find it here). Much of the story revolves around a central mystery and two characters both pulling at Saevius for his loyalty and control. One is the politician that owns him and the other is the lanista Drusus who in a manner also “owns” him as Saevius fights for him in his ludus. The more the gladiator finds out, the more confused he (and the reader) become because nothing is as it seems.
The author builds the suspense, there are many agonizing moments as Saevius often teeters on the brink of discovery. And there is one masterful plot twist at the end that worked perfectly within the storyline and was still a stunner for the reader and the character.
My only slight hesitation here in giving this story five stars was that I wanted to see a little more development in the relationship between Saevius and Drusus. I think that needed a little more time and depth. However, all the other relationships, characters, and dynamics here were so well done that I read straight through until the story was complete.
Cover art: LA Witt. I liked the cover but I seems very old fashioned, more like a college cover.
Sales Link: Universal Book Links
This title is part of the Warriors of Rome collection.
ebook, 175 pages
Published November 5th 2012 by Riptide Publishing (first published November 3rd 2012)
Original TitleThe Left Hand of Calvus
ISBN 193755161X (ISBN13: 9781937551612)
SeriesWarriors of Rome #1
CharactersDrusus, Saivius settingPompeii (Italy)
Literary AwardsRainbow Award for Best Transgender Novel (2013)