by Kimberly Iverson, historical (2006)
HQN, $13.95, ISBN 0-373-77134-7
With the popularity of the HBO TV series Rome, it makes pretty good timing for Kimberly Iverson to come up with Liberty, a historical romance featuring a female gladiator. Since we last heard of Ms Iverson, she wrote Dawnflight under the name Kim Headlee, so Liberty is the official follow-up to that book that is very long time in coming.
Rhyddes ferch Rudd, our heroine, is sold by her father to the Romans as a slave, but she eventually finds herself in the gladiator ring in Londinium after she is purchased by Jamil, an Egyptian Roman citizen who fancies himself a trainer of gladiators. Under the name Libertas ("Rhyddes" means "freedom" in Celt, as I will be told numerous times in this story), she catches the fancy of the son of the Governor, Marcus Calpurnius Aquila. He's a gladiator himself, although he does it as a hobby rather than a forced vocation, so this is a star-crossed romance in the making. What will happen now, oh dear?
Liberty is an epic story as it is more of Rhyddes' story rather than a romance. There are the requisite gladiator bouts, the looks of longing of star-crossed horndogs in lust, and plenty of Bollywood-style melodramatic "How can our love be?" theatrics. All this makes Liberty a pretty interesting read especially if you are looking for a different kind of setting.
A big drawback for me, however, is the fact that the main characters here have all the depths and sophistication of... well, they are no Cassie Edward characters, for sure, but at the same time they are so flat and one-dimensional that they display the same lack of depths as one could expect from cardboard characters. It's the same problem I find with most Native-American romances as well, by the way. Here, Rhyddes is so simplistic in her emotions that she is nearly child-like were not for the fact that she's also lusting for Marcus. She is happy, she is sad, she is happy, she is sad again. Marcus is constantly horny when he is not doing some rather silly things that arise from his self-absorption. These two barely interact and when they do, she's already besotted with him because he's so gorgeous and hot when he's in the ring and it's the same with him. And then they call what they have love.
I don't know. The characters are too one-dimensional and their emotions are often depicted so starkly black or white in a manner more appropriate for children characters. As a result, as much as I want to enjoy this book, I cannot connect to the main characters, much less empathize with this grand love they supposedly have. Ms Iverson has done plenty of research for this story and it shows. The atmosphere is pretty good and the setting is quite well actualized. It's most unfortunate that the characters fail to come to life as much as the backdrop of this story. Liberty is an interesting story with plenty of things to read about and be fascinated by, but as a romance story, it's pretty flat.
Perhaps if you read this more for the story and a glimpse into Roman life, you may find Liberty is pleasant fix now that Rome is no more and James Purefoy will show his Hail Caesar no more on TV. Just don't expect too much of a love story and you'll be fine.
This book at Amazon.com
This book at Amazon UK
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