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REVIEW: The Gladiator by Carla Capshaw

Dear Ms. Capshaw,

0373828241.01.LZZZZZZZThanks for submitting your first historical novel to Dear Author for review and thanks to Michelle Styles, whose first book I read was also a gladiator novel, for suggesting it. Today we use the phrases “thrown to the lions” or “throw ’em another Christian” in all sorts of situations but here’s a book where you actually do it.

He won his fame-‘and his freedom-‘in the gory pits of Rome’s Colosseum. Yet the greatest challenge for once-legendary gladiator Caros Viriathos comes to him through a slave. His slave, the beautiful and mysterious Pelonia Valeria. Her secret brings danger to his household but offers Caros a love like he’s never known-.

Should anyone learn she is a Christian, Pelonia will be executed. Her faith threatens not only herself, but her master. Can she convince a man who found fame through unforgiving brutality to show mercy? And when she’s ultimately given the choice, will Pelonia choose freedom or the love of a gladiator?

First off, I have to wonder at how leniently Caros treats Pelonia despite her numerous stated intentions to run away and her one attempt at it. Sure, he’s in love but, as he says regarding the jealous Lucia, he can’t afford to have anyone in the ludus or his household question his authority. So this whole part of the story, including the jealous female trope, I just had to accept and move on. Ditto on the pet tiger though you do use him imaginatively to save the day.

I appreciate the effort you put into choreographing the training and fight scenes in the story. Too often all I get is some generic “their swords clashed together” and that’s it. If the novel is about fighters, then I want some fighting action and here I got it. That being said, readers should know that the scenes in the Flavian Amphitheater might be more than they’re expecting in an inspy.

Since I come at inspirationals from a secular standpoint, I don’t want to be preached at. Sure I want to see how faith changes the characters and is part of their daily lives but I’m never looking for something along the lines of “Sinners in the Hands of an Angry God.” And as with the fight scenes, you come through in spades. Brava. What continued to strike me throughout reading this book is the immediacy of it all in a time when to be a Christian often meant a quick trip to an ugly death.

You also present the characters with all inclusive tests of faith. Pelonia gets to live the lament, “My God, my God, why hast Thou forsaken me?” She’s also forced to make a life or death decision about whether to renounce her faith and live, or stay true and be condemned. Added bonus: she’s watched Christians die in the arena and truly knows what she’s accepting when she makes her choice. Her friends are shown worrying about whether or not they’ll be turned in to the authorities thus living the question “Who can you trust?”

I think Caros’s gradual path towards his new faith seems realistic. At first, he’s just going to listen to Pelonia because, basically, he thinks it will get him laid. His change of heart is slow and due to incremental exposure to this faith which might offer redemption to even a former gladiator who, despite the adoring throngs of women, historically was fairly low on the social totem pole of Roman life. Added bonus two: his past, as an actual fighter in the arena, as well as a currently being a lanista who had supplied fighters who had killed Christians, beefs up the conflict between Pelonia and himself. Can she forgive this, as Jesus instructs? Added bonus three: Pelonia has to wrestle with her doubts and faltering moments of faith.

From early in the book, I had a feeling where the story was headed and I wasn’t wrong. But I do have a question. Now that Caros has saved Pelonia and committed himself to Christ, what’s going to happen to them? She’s been outed to the authorities and her evil uncle is still alive, though his power will undoubtedly be curtailed thanks to the political maneuverings of the Senator. I can’t see Pelonia and Caros being safe in Rome anymore – or anywhere in the Empire for that matter.

Books set in Rome were once few and far between. Thankfully, the setting appears to gaining popularity now. Yours is the first inspy I’ve read from Harlequin employing this setting but I hope it won’t be the last.


This book can be purchased at Amazon or in ebook format from Sony or other etailers.

This book was provided to the reviewer by either the author or publisher. The reviewer did not pay for this book but received it free. The Amazon Affiliate link earns us a 6-7% affiliate fee if you purchase a book through the link (or anything for that matter) and the Sony link is in conjunction with the sponsorship deal we made for the year of 2009. We do not earn an affiliate fee from Sony through the book link.

Another long time reader who read romance novels in her teens, then took a long break before started back again about 15 years ago. She enjoys historical romance/fiction best, likes contemporaries, action- adventure and mysteries, will read suspense if there's no TSTL characters and is currently reading very few paranormals.


  1. Deb Kinnard
    Dec 14, 2009 @ 17:50:21

    Good on ya, Ms. Capshaw, for writing in an era we don’t usually see in Steeple Hill fic. Can I say here that I don’t read bonnet books? More romance set in the Roman era and up to 1500, I say.

    Going out to get this book.

  2. Jayne
    Dec 14, 2009 @ 18:53:57

    I haven’t had any luck with the “bonnet books” either, Deb. So I was excited to see this historical set in a time other than the American West. Capshaw’s next book is due in January and is set in Colonial America.

  3. emily
    Dec 14, 2009 @ 21:23:43

    One of my favorite historicals set in Rome is Render Unto Caesar by Gillian Bradshaw. Contains a lovely romance, too. IIRC he was a Roman citizen so wasn’t allowed to marry the woman he loved, but he could have her as his mistress/concubine. But it does end happily, realistically.

  4. C.L. Wilson
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 03:35:10

    Wonderful review, Jane! :)

    I love reading historical romances set different times and locales (including roman) – but anything outside of regency england has been hard to come by these last few years. (If I needed a fix, I had to read outside the romance genre or go back to my storage shed and crack open the boxes of old books)

    I hope to see a return to the wonderful diversity in historical romance – and I look forward to reading many more books by the talented Ms. Capshaw :)

  5. Moth
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 04:13:39

    I am a BIG fan of Roman set romances, especially with gladiator heroes! who aren’t Roman nobles in disguise! I really really wanted to read this but the Inspy elements made me hesitate as I am definitely NOT their target niche. I just couldn’t get it out of my head, though, so I finally bought myself a copy as a Christmas present to myself.

    I just finished reading the book in one sitting, and I enjoyed it a lot. :)

    I agree that Mrs. Capshaw handled the faith-based elements very well. I never felt preached at and I did believe in Caros’ conversion at the end. Oh, and Jayne,I assumed that Marcus would give Pelonia the farm in Iguvium back and she and Caros would go live there. (Their fate might be addressed in the sequel that she’s writing right now).

    I do think the fact I’m a fan of all the old sword and sandal movies like Demetrius and the Gladiators and Quo Vadis helped a little, though, because I’m already accustomed to getting a healthy dose of Christian dogma with my Romans. I’m totally ready to read more Roman inspys, tho, once she writes the book with Quintus!

    Did anyone else think the final battle was a bit of a mash-up of the fights from Gladiator and the final battle from Quo Vadis?

  6. Moth
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 04:18:38


    I assumed that Marcus would give Pelonia the farm

    Ugh. I meant Antonius would give the farm back to her. NOT Marcus. Oy.

  7. neva
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 05:29:59

    This synopsis puts me in mind of Francine Rivers book “A voice in the Wind”, from the mark of the Lion trilogy. Has anyone read both books and are there any similarities?

  8. Lizzy
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 06:33:37

    That gladiator kind of looks like Rupert Everett to me. Anyone else? Anyone? Bueller? Bueller?

  9. Jayne
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 07:02:46

    @Lizzy: He reminds me a bit of a more rugged looking Matthew Goode.

  10. Jayne
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 07:04:14

    @neva: She’s been on my very lengthy list of authors to try so I can’t say if there are any similarities. But I’d be interested to know if someone else can answer your question.

  11. Jayne
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 07:06:35

    @emily: This sounds very interesting, Emily. Thanks for mentioning it.

  12. Jayne
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 07:09:58

    @Moth: But would they be safe, even out on the farm? Wouldn’t her evil uncle still be looking to see her condemned?

    It’s been a while since I watched “Quo Vadis” but I agree that the final fight scene seems a lot like a scene from “Gladiator.”

  13. Deb Kinnard
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 10:35:58

    I haven’t read this (yet) but I hear what you’re saying about fight scenes. I’m trying to write one for my W.I.P. (1356 England) and it’s bloody HARD. I’ve never studied fencing, I’m not sure what to call the moves, and I’m having difficulty imagining how the fighters know what to do next and where that next brutal sword-chop is going to land!

    No wonder a writer might channel a movie fight scene, albeit unconsciously. It’s not part of our normal life experience these days. After all, how often do we see sword fights while walking down to the local Starbuck’s?

  14. Susan/DC
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 11:54:40

    No wonder a writer might channel a movie fight scene, albeit unconsciously. It's not part of our normal life experience these days. After all, how often do we see sword fights while walking down to the local Starbuck's?

    While it didn’t end with an actual sword fight, my son was stopped by the police at our local Starbuck’s as he was on his way to a fencing lesson. In typical male teenage fashion, it never occurred to him that carrying a unconcealed weapon down a busy city street might be a cause for concern. He definitely learned a life lesson that day.

  15. Kalen Hughes
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 13:34:13

    I LOVE books set in Rome. Grew up on them in fact (lots of Rosemary Sutcliff in my early years). Damion Hunter's Roman trilogy is awesome (esp the first book The Centurions). I know it looks like a man wrote them, but I assure you it's a pen name for a woman (she's my godmother), and there are several great romances in the books (the only religious stuff I remember is some stuff about the Mithras cult the soldiers participate in).

  16. Jayne
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 16:06:41

    @Deb Kinnard: One author who does fight scenes well is Patricia Veryan – though her books are mainly set in 18th/19th century England so more thrusting and parrying than chopping.

  17. Jayne
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 16:09:16

    @Susan/DC: LOL, too funny. I’m sure this story featured in the next morning “would you believe it?” discussion at the police station.

  18. Moth
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 17:03:05

    @Jayne: In Quo Vadis the heroine is gussied up and tied to a stake in the middle of the arena while a charging bull is unleashed and her bodyguard type guy has to fight it. They also reference a myth during the fight in the movie. Something about the Cretan bull…?

    @Deb Kinnard:

    No wonder a writer might channel a movie fight scene, albeit unconsciously. It's not part of our normal life experience these days. After all, how often do we see sword fights while walking down to the local Starbuck's?

    Oh yeah, I understood why, and I wasn’t really complaining. I just thought it was interesting to note the mash-up. :)

  19. Deb Kinnard
    Dec 15, 2009 @ 18:29:50

    I LOVE Patricia Veryan! Her regencies are beyond anything I’ve read in that era, save for one book alone: Elsie Lee’s SECOND SEASON. That one sparkles, entirely different in tone from Veryan’s books but riveting in a completely novel way (pun intended).

    Veryan is so much one of my heroes, I stole her surname for my hero in an upcoming release. Gotta pay proper homage…if we romancers don’t do so, who will?

  20. Becca
    Dec 16, 2009 @ 12:44:31

    love Veryan too – is there any chance, I wonder, of getting her republished, like the Heyer republishing? I’ve got almost all of Veryan’s books, but I’m missing one or two… definitely she’s an overlooked voice.

  21. Francesca Hawley
    Dec 16, 2009 @ 14:49:03

    @Deb Kinnard

    If you need help writing fight scenes, visit with re-enactor groups. There are some who work with live steel. I’ve been a member of the Society for Creative Anachronism for several years. They don’t use live steel but the battle is unscripted and realistic. They fight full out with armor and appropriately weighted weapons. You can find people fighting one on one or in melee situation. It’s invaluable to see how fighters move against one another. If you need to contact someone start at for contact information.

    Good luck!

  22. Deb Kinnard
    Dec 16, 2009 @ 21:14:32

    @Francesca: we’ve got a very active SCA chapter here in the Chicago area. I’ve been strongly tempted for years to join them & learn all they can teach me. It’s a really good idea, and if I get stuck on this book, well it’s on to the re-enactors I go!

  23. Onyx
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 14:19:23

    Jayne, I read this book on your recommend. Loved it! I don’t think anyone knew the heroine was in the arena because she was a Christian– except for the hero, his old owner and the H&H’s friends. The guy who organized the games told the hero he’d bribe the magistrate to keep her situation a secret. The mob didn’t know who she was or why she was there because she wasn’t in with the other prisoners. The organizer wanted Caros to fight, so he had her there for the show. I thought the scene in the arena was very “Roman”. They loved drama and the more spectacle the better. :-)

  24. Jayne
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 14:33:42

    I’m so glad you enjoyed the book, Onyx. I’m just going to have to turn off my “but…but…but” wondering and imagine them happy together.

  25. Onyx
    Dec 22, 2009 @ 14:58:32

    LOL That works, too, Jayne. :-)

  26. RITA Open Thread | Dear Author: Romance Novel Reviews, Industry News, and Commentary
    Mar 26, 2010 @ 14:52:30

    […] I don’t read inspirationals so I haven’t a clue here although I believe that Tamera Alexander has won before.  Jayne did read and review the Capshaw book here. […]

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