Wednesday, June 8, 2011

'Roma Victrix' by Russell Whitfield

When I last left Lysandra she was sweating, panting, and covered in grime from the arena after her deadly gladiatorial fight with Sorina.  When we meet up again in ‘Roma Victrix’ I had to hold my nose because of the stench of alcohol.  What happened to the lithe, strong warrior who spilled the blood of others on the sand?  What happened to the insufferable arrogance of this Spartan princess?  (actually… that hasn’t changed).  Where is my taut bare breasted champion?  Well… she was there, but it was usually as Dionysys bedmate.  Lucky bastard.  

Lysandra’s fall from grace is shocking but is needed to make the coming glory that much sweeter.  Maybe.  Russell takes us back to Rome, back to the ludus, back to the practice sands, and back to the realistic fantasy of the woman gladiator.  Despite Lysandra’s current wine induced stupor she has carved out an almost Herculean status on the arena sands, and the Roman Emperor has requested that she fights one more match against Illeana, the Gladiatrix Prima.  Illeana is equal to Lysandra in almost every way.  Deadly.  Sexy.  Brutal.  Confident.  The meeting of these two women is the driving force to this book, but it’s not the only one.  

Sorina pops back in to say hello and Tribune Valerian has the unlucky fortune to meet her and her Amazon-like warriors in battle.  What ensues embarrasses Rome and Valerian both.  Poor Valerian.  He will suffer and Russell proves that the brutality and savagery that made me cringe and fall in love with ‘Gladiatrix’, will not be absent in this book.  You know the saying “all roads lead to Rome”?  That’s a good analogy for what is going on in ‘Roma Victrix’.  A good author can tell story.  A VERY good author can tell a story within in a story and Russell tells about four.  Lysandra battles the wineskin and joins a twelve-slash program (get it… twelve step/twelve slash?  Get it? Get it?  Oh shut up), accepts the invitation to fight, moves away from her home, and begins an intense, and I mean INTENSE, training regimen.  Valerian is suffering through his own hell as Rome has turned her back and meted out her own punishment on him.  Compared to the whim of the gods, Greek comedies are a joke.  Rome is planning revenge (war) and their planned method is… cold.  Pure, 100% without affection, Roman savagery.  

Everything comes to a head when Lysandra and Illeana meet and the paring is exactly what you would expect.  A match truly for the gods and we mortals are only eaves-watching.  I actually got chills as I was reading it because it was extremely well written and waaaaaay to suspenseful.  Want to really enjoy the fight scene?  Throw on ‘Assassin’s Creed 2’ soundtrack.  This was my soundtrack of choice as I was reading this book and it was like the wine to a good meal.  Anyway, back on topic… reading about these two half-naked warrior women fighting in the Coliseum, in front of 50,000 blood thirsty Romans, hacking, slashing, bleeding, bouncing, primal screaming… I was ready for it.  What I WASN’T ready for was the end.  What the hell!?!  Your dad could be Nostradamus and your mom could be Isis and you’ll STILL not see that coming. 
One of the things I also liked was that Russell kept with the “same” formula as his last book.  Meaning the brutality, the sexuality, and the unapologetic violence did not change.  He got a lot of flak for having so much of that in his first book and instead of listening to those people (most of whom DIDN’T read the book) he kept with what made his last book such a pleasure.  If you read ‘Gladiatrix’ you will want/NEED to read ‘Roma Victrix’.  

Russ is one of those authors who take great pride in his work and it really does show.  His two books are the types of stories that take and transport you but he also has a virtual word that is almost as fascinating.  Want to see what Lysandra looks like?  What about Illeana?  Want to be like me and drool over barely-there clothing?  Then join the experience and go as far Russ’s imagination.  Check out the numerous websites and links on his site.  OK… I’ve said too much… but I could easily say plenty more.  Vale’!


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