by Carla Capshaw, historical (2010)
Steeple Hill, $5.50, ISBN 978-0-373-82840-1
Carla Capshaw's The Protector is related to her debut effort The Gladiator. You can try to read this one as a standalone effort. However, this book showcases some pre-established relationships between the main characters and some secondary characters in this book, so you may want to read the previous book first, just in case.
Indeed, this book follows the same pattern found in The Gladiator - the story is set in the late 800s, the slave is the Christian, and the pagan that will see the light is the rich person with perceived authority. I use the word "perceive" because the slave will run roughshod over this person. Only in The Protector, there is a reversal of gender where the roles are concerned. The noble lady is Adiona Leonia, a widow, and the Christian slave is Quintus Ambustus. Because Quintus is a man and therefore he is charged with the manly role of protecting the heroine, he doesn't run amok like a crazy millipede in this story. Therefore, even when he's giving the heroine orders, he is more tolerable than the idiot heroine in the previously related book.
Adiona is a widow. Oh yes, of course she had a terrible first marriage. Her late husband could give Nero lessons in public brutality. Adiona also couldn't give her late husband an heir, she now believes that all men are bastards, and... I'm sure you know the story by now. Adiona may despise men because most of the men she encounters are of the "We Will, We Will Maul You, Woo-hoo!" type, but when she sees Quintus for the first time, her blood flows a little faster and she begins feeling the urge to heed the call to go forth and procreate.
Adiona is also the kind of heroine who is overly-visceral to the point that she is more emotional than sensible. Even when she knows that someone is out to kill her, she must rush to the side of her heir's side so that she can ensure that the poor woman will be buried with proper rites. (Her heir, like all Romans with nary a drop of faith in God in this story, is a cartoon villain.) If she has to walk all the way there, she will because she's such a lovely and selfless heroine that way. Her friend Caros, who happens to own Quintus, decides to send Quintus to bodyguard her.
Quintus has always wanted to read aloud scriptures from the Bible to Adiona from the moment he sees her, but alas, she is a Roman lady and she is also not a Christian. How can he join his body with hers in a manner approved by God when she is a mere heathen? How can he heed the calling to breed many, many children on her when God tells him not to be unequally yoked? Oh, the pain. But he will protect Adiona, so there is no avoiding the lady.
The Protector is a straightforward and very familiar story of a hero taking care of a heroine-in-distress, laced with some wholesome Christian values here and there to allow the book to qualify as an inspirational kind of cliché. The heroine is flat - she is a mishmash of acceptable and inoffensive personality traits such as overly emotional to a ridiculous degree, mistaking "caring" and "selflessness" for "having no bloody common sense or survival instinct", and plenty of intimacy and trust issues when it comes to men. In other words, Adiona is the perfect caricature to play the damsel in need of full time bodyguard protection when the hero is not showing her how mighty and trustworthy the Christians are as a way of TLC. What, you expect him to shag her into realizing that sex is great and not all men are bastards? This is an inspirational romance, buddy. God is watching.
As for the conversion thing, given that Ms Capshaw portrays all the non-Christian Romans here in the worst light possible, no wonder Adiona decides to embrace Christianity. It's too bad that the reason for her conversion is more contrived than poignant and inspiring.
While Adiona is a flat, boring and ridiculous "Oh, and I'm also a virgin!" thing, Quintus is confusing. Here is a man who refuses to accept Caros's offer of freedom, insisting instead that he will buy his way out of slavery. And here I am thinking that pride is one of the seven deadly sins. Therefore, Quintus spends his time killing elephants and people in the gladiatorial ring because he wants to earn his way out of slavery. And yet, later, he will tell his enemy that were he not a Christian, he would have killed that enemy. The implication is obvious: the Christian way is more civilized and humane than the ways of the disbelievers. But if Quintus is so proud about how he doesn't kill as a Christian, what is he doing in the gladiatorial ring? He's not knitting lace doilies for orphan children in there, the last I checked.
Also, as a haughty Christian who believes in his superior ways over the heathens, he is amazingly judgmental when it comes to Adiona. He has her pegged immediately as a brainless shallow harlot, and it is only when she suffers from panic attack due to claustrophobia - he forces her to travel in a battered and enclosed carriage and later stay in a window-less room at an inn, ignoring her protests because he's so sure that she's a vain and selfish wench like his previous wife - that he goes into "Awww! Look at that weak little thing going eek-eek-eek! Clearly, such shows of vulnerability prove that she is an innocent thing after all!" mode. Should I be worried that he often seems to believe that a woman in emotional distress and a virtuous woman is one and the same?
And finally, despite being a slave, Quintus is also revealed to be very rich. Don't ask me. This guy is like ten different guys rolled into one. I guess that, for all the talk about believing in God and what not, ultimately faith in a happy ending is not enough unless it is propped up by big bags of money. Gloria in excelsis Dollar!
The Protector is pretty clichéd, but that will still be fine with me, if the author hadn't turned the hero into an often contradictory and therefore hypocritical character.
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