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REVIEW: My Wicked Gladiators by Lauren Hawkeye

Dear Ms. Hawkeye:

Initially I wondered whether I should have sent this book to Jayne. She’s not much of a fan of the menage, but she does love the period. The best thing about the book is not the sex or the period but the almost gothic like atmosphere of the story. It is told entirely from Alba’s point of view, an often dreamy not quite of this world point of view.

My Wicked Gladiators Lauren HawkeyeAlba is a member of the wealthy merchant class in Rome whose husband, Lucius, owns a gladiator school. The time period of the book must be circa 73 BCE as there are references to Spartacus in the novel. Alba lives a life of wealth and leisure but is dissatisfied, although she chastises herself for feeling such. Her husband no longer visits her regularly, primarily because she was barren. But he did not mistreat her nor did he ban her from taking her pleasure elsewhere. Alba is portrayed as rich and lonely, but naive and almost innocent. The latter characterization was inconsistent with her lifestyle and another unfortunate pass at representing a certain hierarchy of women based on their sexual morality.

Alba, despite having had both female and male lovers, self castigates for having feelings of lust for the gladiators that fight for her husband. “What kind of domina was I, imagining myself seducing a slave?” Alba asks herself. Not a page later, she recounts that her maidservant Drusilla and her had enjoyed a dalliance when they were younger but now only engaged in that act for the benefit of her husband.

When Lucius decrees that Alba must have a child in order to satisfy a wealthy patron who believes that men with large families make the best business partners, Lucius requests that Alba have sex with another man.  A doctor determines that the barrenness must be Lucius’ fault and he accepts this, deciding that Alba will be impregnated by their slaves.  How convenient for Alba it is two of the gladiators after whom she lusts!

Despite all the time we spend in Alba’s head, she doesn’t come off as a deep character nor one with any maturity.  She is taken aback, for example, by the overt lasciviousness a wealthy widow displays toward Alba’s gladiators.  She allows a manservant to take a position of power and almost dominance in her household.  It seems as if Alba simply floats through life, being dressed by her servant, bathed by her servant, being serviced by her gladiators.  At some point, she does show a spark of interest in the widow’s freedom but rarely tries to exert power in her own home despite being educated enough to read the business books kept by Lucius.

When I reflect back on the book, I think of Alba constantly trembling, her desires and life choices always a hairsbreadth from being taken from her.  Whether we were to take from this that women were seriously repressed and under the thumb of their husbands in Ancient Rome or whether that was simply Alba’s personality, I wasn’t sure.

The sex scenes were hot from time to time, but I also felt that there was a certain checklist quality to them.  Masked sex, anal sex, a little BDSM play, menage.  In part because we were only in Alba’s head, the love scenes often seemed sterile and detached.

We also get little insight into the gladiator lifestyle.  We know only that they serve at the whim of their owners and that they could win or buy freedom. Some were slaves and others took up the position of gladiator for lack of any other possible avenue.  The biggest question remains unanswered.  Why do the two top gladiators at Alba’s school desire her, particularly when the two have feelings for each other.

The story was written around the time of the Spartacus revolt and references regarding Spartacus were made but the exploration of this important political event was superficial, almost hesitant.  There were elements I liked – the ominous gothic feel and the setting of Ancient Rome.  I felt that the story didn’t live up to the promise. C

Best regards,

Jane

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Jane Litte is the founder of Dear Author, a lawyer, and a lover of pencil skirts. She spends her downtime reading romances and writing about them. Her TBR pile is much larger than the one shown in the picture and not as pretty. You can reach Jane by email at jane @ dearauthor dot com

13 Comments

  1. Violetta Vane
    May 29, 2012 @ 10:24:45

    I’m so torn about this. This was on my TBR list, then I took it off, but now I’m thinking about putting it back on. I love menage, I love gladiator and ancient Roman stuff… but these characterization issues are probably going to be a serious roadblock to enjoyment.

    Maybe it’s that it’s so hard to balance tone and realism with romance. It’s a ridiculously grim subject, once you think about it for more than half a second. Staying true to that grimness and showing the psychology of people who accepted it as a matter of daily life, while still keeping them sympathetic to a modern reader, is quite difficult.

    And my first problem with the plot is that I don’t understand why the husband wouldn’t just divorce his wife. Divorce was common among the upper classes… and so was adoption. It was an incredibly patriarchal society, but a very different flavor of it than post-Christian stuff. Other problems with the plot too, but that’s my first one.

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  2. Jane
    May 29, 2012 @ 10:27:39

    @Violetta Vane – I think this book would have been better served by a less gothic overtone and more insight about the gladiators, particularly as the two men had a pre existing relationship. The female seemed shoehorned in there. The concept was more intriguing than the actual execution. I was seriously disappointed by the portrayal of the heroine as this naive innocent with zero agency as well. Granted she gained a backbone through the book but her passivity, particularly in the first half was grating as was the slut shaming of the sexually aggressive widow.

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  3. JoanneL
    May 29, 2012 @ 11:09:21

    Question: The setting is 70-ish BCE so how, exactly, did the doctor determine that the barrenness must be Lucius’ fault? Lab work at the baths? That almost threw me out of the review it would definitely toss me out of the story.

    Nice review but I’ll pass. I already bought too many gladiator stories that don’t work.

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  4. Isobel Carr
    May 29, 2012 @ 11:34:06

    Basically sounds like Spartacus (the TV series) fan fic (wherein the wife of the man who owns the gladiator school is sleeping with one of the gladiators because the house needs an heir and she has the hots for him).

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  5. Jane
    May 29, 2012 @ 11:51:04

    @JoanneL – The doctor surmises that since the husband has been banging everything that moves and none of those chicks have gotten pregnant, he must be at fault. Husband accepts this with equanimity.

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  6. Jane
    May 29, 2012 @ 11:51:26

    @Isobel Carr – Sounds like it. I’ve never watched Spartacus.

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  7. Violetta Vane
    May 29, 2012 @ 12:16:13

    Spartacus is totally whacked-out, but a lot of fun. And it has a lot of strong women characters, too!

    But even in Spartacus, the husband wasn’t in on the impregnation thingie from the beginning.

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  8. Heidi Belleau
    May 29, 2012 @ 14:01:59

    @Violetta Vane:

    Haha, I was just thinking that. “Sounds like Spartacus”, except without all the badass women being badasses. Why would you take the one good thing about the show out? Dear me.

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  9. Anna_C
    May 29, 2012 @ 15:40:45

    I actually disagree with all of these comments. I received an ARC of this book from the publisher and really enjoyed it. There is a Spartacus flavor, yes, but I found the characters were, for the most part, fairly well rounded. We don’t get to see as much of the heroes as I’d like, since it’s in first person, but I loved how Alba started the book as a fairly meek woman and by the end had taken control of her own destiny.

    At first I was a little startled by the “slut shaming” too, but after thinking about it, I liked how the author wove in the background (I won’t add spoilers).

    In the end, I think this one might have had a bit more of a women’s fiction flavor that the average romance, which some people may not like. But I thought it was a great, thought-provoking read, and I would definitely recommend trying it. I know that I have wound up enjoying a lot of books that Jane and Jayne haven’t enjoyed… they do a great job, but in the end, it’s all personal taste, right? My “taste” is that I really like this book! I’m still thinking about it, and that’s how I know that it really affected me.

    Oh yeah, and the sex- yowza. Just yowza.

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  10. Donna Tunney
    May 29, 2012 @ 15:43:40

    Interesting. I read a Harlequin Spice Briefs by Hawkeye and thoroughly enjoyed it. Now you’ve got me curious. Anything that sounds like “Spartacus” is worth a read to my mind.

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  11. Eve M.
    May 29, 2012 @ 18:01:18

    Still sounds like it’ll be fun to me. I enjoyed this author’s Spice Brief and look forward to seeing lots of new titles from her.

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  12. Dara S.
    May 30, 2012 @ 12:00:44

    Did someone say Spartacus??? LURVE that show. Well, the first two seasons — third one not so much (rest in peace Andy Whitfield). If it’s Spartacus fan fiction or even inspired by Spartacus, I’m all over it.

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  13. Anna_C
    May 30, 2012 @ 22:46:28

    I know, right? First two seasons rocked. CanNOT get into this one!

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