Tuesday 30 January 2018

Blood and Sand, C. V. Wyk

She wanted to run and run until her breath was spent, until the ashes of her bones mingled with those of her people

Attia was once destined to rule as the queen and swordmaiden of Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world had seen since Sparta. Now she is a slave, given to Xanthus, the Champion of Rome, as a sign of his master’s favor. Enslaved as a child, Xanthus is the preeminent gladiator of his generation.

Against all odds, Attia and Xanthus form a tentative bond. A bond that will spark a rebellion. A rebellion that threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end―and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus...

* * 
2 / 5 

In answer to the age-old gladiatorial question: "are you not entertained?", the answer is "only a little bit". I have a fondness for books set in Ancient Rome - The Eagle of the Ninth, for example, or virtually anything by Simon Scarrow - and Blood and Sand promised not only the tale of a gladiator who strives for freedom, Xanthus, but also that of a warrior princess of Thrace, Attia! It sounded awesome and I eagerly began reading this book, only to discover that it is dominated by a poorly plotted romance and a lack of exciting action. 

Blood and Sand has received some rave reviews, so certainly many people have enjoyed this book, and it did have it's strong points - the opening of the book was fantastic. We have Attia, recently enslaved and mourning the death of her people and her father, who takes her chance to run, fleeing over the rooftops with guards in pursuit. Then there's Xanthus, a prize gladiator slave from Britannia who hates killing but is exceedingly good at it. The book definitely has a strong hook and initially I liked the two main characters. 

Xanthus pitied the man. It didn't matter what god he worshiped. All of them were already in hell.

But then: the romance. Attia is given to Xanthus by their dominus as reward, presumably to be a bed slave. Xanthus allows her to sleep in his bed whilst he sleeps on the floor. They have approximately three conversations before Attia proclaims that Xanthus is setting her heart (and other parts) on fire, and that she won't take her chance for freedom whilst he is still enslaved. Which is patently ridiculous and unbelievable considering the first chunk of the book sets Attia up as exceedingly devoted to the scattered remains of her people, the renowned fighters, the Maedi, and willing to go to any lengths to reclaim her crown. 

I also found the plot quite bizarre. There's a scene where the family are travelling with their retinue, which includes slaves like Attia and a contingency of gladiators, and they are surrounded and out-numbered by a group of sword-wielding villagers who want their provisions and Xanthus. But instead of just taking what they want, they agree to some insane plan of putting Xanthus in an arena and he has to fight anyone they send at him until dawn. If he survives, they go free. Why would this happen?? It wouldn't. There's also this odd twisting of historical events and their timeline to fit the narrative of the book, which didn't really bother me too much, but did feel a touch unnatural and forced. 

Because maybe in this house, in this prison, they both wanted the same impossible thing: to be just a man and just a woman, standing free in the rain

Blood and Sand had it's entertaining and awesome, badass moments, but it also felt slow in terms of plot and moving at break-neck speed in terms of romance. There's also a lot of characters with similar names (Lucius, Lucretia, Lebuin, etc.) who often feel like props - Lucretia is a slave whose only role is basically to be pitied by Attia. Blood and Sand, I think, will appeal to a specific type of reader who, unfortunately, was not me. 

My thanks to Netgalley, the publisher, and the author for an ARC of this book

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