At last! A Gladiator book with heart and verve!
Author Adam Gaylord elevates his work far above the Dungeons and Dragons drudge so prevalent today by producing a protagonist worthy of our emotional investment.
Sol — an elite fighter in the Coliseum in the Romanesque city of Astrolia — has been brought up since birth deep within the lower confines of the Coliseum to be a gladiator. It’s the only existence he’s ever known, adopted by the other slaves and doted on since early childhood by a rotund but motherly cook and by kindly old Chief Guard Grall.
Every day Sol strides into the packed arena to an endless swell of voices chanting his name:
“Amplified by the deep stone bowl of the Coliseum, the sound was deafening. Blocks away, babies awoke, crying in their cribs, as the surrounding city shook with it. Down in the dungeons, carved from the lving stone beneath the Coliseum, fighters stirred in their bunks. The animal handlers backed away from the massive cages, whips cracking, trying to subdue the beasts driven mad by the sound.”
It’s old style, cinematic Charleston Heston-esque action, brought to vivid life by the author’s impeccable prose, and brimming with all the elements necessary for a good read in this genre: heroism, heartache, fast friendships, and, of course, the de rigeur bad guy, played in this case by sadistic slave subduer and assassin Lysik — nicknamed “The Crow.”
And, then, there’s Korra — the beautiful woman brought — as custom dictates — to Sol as the winning gladiator after a particularly brutal event on the stadium’s sands.
But his purpose, she finds quickly, is not to bed her. Rather, there is, instead, an almost child-like interchange in which Sol asks about the consistency of — snow. You see, as a longtime resident below ground, he’s never seen the white stuff, and his inquiry confounds Korra, who was, well, expecting a different outcome from her encounter with the famed fighter.
There are many such unexpected turns to this excellent book, even as Sol ascends to his inevitable role as leader of a grassroots rebellion. Again, there is action apace, and this will satisfy even the most voracious readers of such world-building fare.
But it is the careful humanity with which the author imbues his characters that most captured my admiration.
Five-plus stars to this carefully wrought work of fiction, and a fervent hope that Sol will continue his winning ways in subsequent volumes.