Title: Mask of the Gladiator
Author: Georgie Lee
Publisher: Carina Press
May Contain Spoilers
Rome, 41 AD
Livia Duronius is driven to seek out a gladiator after watching him triumph in the Coliseum. His touch arouses a sense of hope she hasn’t felt since Rome fell under the tyrannical rule of Caligula—and her late husband betrayed her. Though in danger of losing more than her heart, she vows to see him again, even after she learns her uncle has arranged her marriage to a senator.
Senator Titus Marius cannot resist indulging in a passionate encounter with the veiled woman who waits for him after the games, though he faces execution if his true identity is discovered. Bound by honor to wed another, and embroiled in a plot to free Rome from madness, he never expects to see the mystery woman again.
When the fates reunite them in the marriage bed, Titus vows to protect Livia at all costs—even from the lecherous eyes of the emperor…
Since there are so few romances set in Ancient Rome, I grabbed this as soon as I saw it on Netgalley. It’s another Carina Press novella, with a word count of about 17,000 words, and I was curious to see if I would enjoy this as much as Priestess of the Nile. After some misgivings at the start, I found that I liked it even better. The pacing was swift, and the intrigue really reeled me in. How would Titus and Livia survive with all of the danger swirling about the streets of Rome?
I didn’t care for beginning, and started having doubts after Livia enjoys a forbidden moment with a mysterious gladiator. What Livia doesn’t know is that her mystery man is Senator Titus Marius, and that he risks death every time he dons his armor and enters the Coliseum for a fight to the death. In his bid to overthrow the cruel Caligula, he is willing to enter the Games to set his plans in motion. If he is caught, he will be executed. He chafes at the promise he has made to marry the niece of one of his co-conspirators, but honor demands that he keep his word. Imagine his surprise when his bride-to-be turns out to be none other than the woman he shared a passionate encounter with after his latest victory.
I am not sure why the beginning rubbed me the wrong way, but ugh, it did. I had serious reservations about finishing the novella, but once Livia is given the unpleasant news that she is to wed one of her uncle’s acquaintances, things got rolling. Livia discovers that her uncle and several of the most powerful men in Rome are plotting to bring about Caligula’s downfall. Since even she hasn’t been spared from his cruelty, Livia is eager to assist in any way she can. The emperor has brought nothing but hardship to the people of Rome, ruling through terror and murdering anyone who he doesn’t like.
With the threat of death over their heads, it was easy to buy into Titus and Livia’s instant affinity for each other. Nothing creates feelings of solidarity faster than the fear of a painful and sudden death. Though Livia has trust issues due to her previous, and brief, marriage, she allows Titus to convince her that he will protect her with his life. Even I believed him. He’s a strong, fearless man who has faced death many times on both the battlefield and in the Games. If anyone could keep Livia safe from the emperor, it would surely be Titus. Secure in this belief, Livia is allowed to become fearless herself, and after their plans go awry, Livia needs to be brave and self-reliant. That is what I liked best about her character; she understands the danger she faces, and yet she rushes into the jaws of an almost certain, bloody end. If Titus can be fearless, than she can do no less.
I found the setting, those secretive, tense days leading up to Caligula’s assassination, compelling. I enjoyed the characters, and found this a satisfying, suspenseful read.
Available January 30
Review copy provided by publisher