3.5 out of 5 stars
Ancient Rome: gladiators, slaves, and a kick-ass heroine in a story where everything happens a little too easily.
Attia, heir to the throne of Thrace, is the sole survivor of a Roman raid that ends her people. Shipped off to Rome as a slave, she is purchased by the house of a sadist with political ambitions. (Is there ever a Roman man depicted differently?) The master also owns Rome’s best gladiator, and gives Attia to him as a prize. But the gladiator is a slave too. Instead of a new horror, Attia finds her only hope.
Blood and Sand is quick and short, very efficiently written. The familiar picture is painted swiftly: Roman empire spinning toward evil, gorged on its own green and excess. As heroines go, Attia is admirable – a fierce fighter, ruthlessly bent on revenge, with a soft side for whatever type of family she can find. Xanthus, Champion of Rome, is similar. That’s where this story gets a little light.
The good people are obviously good, the bad are cartoonishly bad. Those you think might fall in between are quickly revealed to be one or the other. Attia is described as small and light, yet her fighting skills so great she can help (or best) man after man. A romantic idea, yes. But in a gritty story, set against a world you know well from other stories, it’s too simplistic. Too easy. As a reader, you want her to kick ass. Yet you also need her to be a little more realistic.
Still, the story zips along and I rooted for the good guys. A genuinely surprising twist at the end saves it from being unmemorable. A second book was obvious from the start – if only because there aren’t enough pages here.