Gladiatrix by Russell WhitfieldBuy Gladiatrix from Amazon.com

Under the Flavian Emperors the Roman publicís hunger for gladiatorial combat has never been greater. The Emperor Domitianís passion for novelty and variety in the arena has given rise to a very different kind of warrior: the Gladiatrix. Sole survivor of a shipwreck off the coast of Asia Minor, Lysandra finds herself the property of Lucius Balbus, owner of the foremost Ludus for female gladiators in the Eastern Empire. Lysandra, a member of an ancient Spartan sect of warrior priestesses, refuses to accept her new status as a slave. Forced to fight for survival, her deadly combat skills win the adoration of the crowds, the respect of her Lanista, Balbus, and the admiration of Sextus Julius Frontinus, the provincial governor. But Lysandraís Spartan pride also earns her powerful enemies: the Dacian warrior, Sorina, Gladiatrix Prima and leader of the Barbarian faction, and the sadistic Nubian trainer Nastasen. When plans are laid for the ultimate combat spectacle to honour the visit of the new Consul, Lysandra must face her greatest and deadliest trial.

"A great debut that shines an entirely new light on the glory and the bloodshed of the Roman arena. Whitfield paints a vivid picture of the fights and the passions of women combatants. It's exciting stuff, with well rounded characters, nail-biting duels to the death and vividly depicted settings. Gladiatrix makes Gladiator look very tame indeed!" --Simon Scarrow, author of the Eagle series of novels

"Russell Whitfield is a natural storyteller. He delivers breathtaking surprises as he weaves gripping scenes of combat with vivid interludes that reveal the underside of Roman life. His Lysandra is a heroine you won't forget; whether being mulish or noble, she is always engaging." -- Donna Gillespie, author of The Light Bearer and Lady of the Light

"What a brilliant novel! Whitfield has taken one of history's curiosities -- the role of the female gladiator -- and woven from it a savage and splendid tale of the Roman arena . . . a tale that, once sampled, cannot be easily forgotten." --Scott Oden, author of Men of Bronze and Memnon

"Gladiatrix weaves a complex tale against the vivid background of Rome's far-flung Empire in the heady but dangerous days during the reign of Domitian. A must for anyone interested in Ancient Rome as well as for those who have yet to visit this fascinating era." --Paul Doherty, author of The Alexander the Great Mysteries
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Falcata Times

Launching a new year with a new writer is always a good thing for me, it's a taster of things to come in a new generation of writers in much the same way that Janus looks forward and backwards at the same time. So I was more than pleasantly surprised when I picked up the novel Gladiatrix. As the name would suggest the principle protagonist (or protagonista) is a female gladiator which were originally seen as a bit of light entertainment. Knowing this did put me on edge to begin with until I started getting into the tale.

The combat which appears within the pages is simply written alongside being short descriptions which allows the reader to envision the fight as it takes place. No complications are thrown in as otherwise it could have easily detracted from the scene and lost the key element that made it so gripping. Its brutal, fast paced and at times short, but then again that's the typical life of a gladiator. With the principle protagonist coming from Spartan stock it's a bit of a giveaway as to the toughness and inherent combat skills that we would come to expect from such and with her freeness of speech it endears her to the reader.

Well written with a touch of wry humour and a number of nods to past masters of writing within the pages it's clearly a novel of love and one that has been painstakingly researched. A great first novel and one that the passion clearly shows through allowing any errors to be ignored by the reader due to the sheer enthusiasm and gusto within. I look forward to reading future novels from this author.

Credit: Gareth Wilson

Historical Novel Society
This is Russell Whitfield's debut novel. Gladiatrix is set in the second century, at the height of the Roman Empire, whose rulers were a discordant mix of classical learning and extreme cruelty. Under Domitian the spectacles of human slaughter have grown to epic proportions and each sponsor of gladiatorial games seeks novelty. Set in the Eastern Mediterranean Gladiatrix explores the world of female gladiators.

Lysandra is an educated Spartan warrior priestess who is captured by Lucius Balbus, the owner of a school for female gladiators in Asia Minor. Lysandra overcomes the shame of slavery to become a skilled and ruthless gladiatrix. The crowds love her stubborn hubris and she attracts the attention of Sextus Frontinus, the region's governor. Within the palisade of the school, Lysandra finds the love and hate of both men and women; the resolution of these conflicts drives the plot at a cracking pace.

Whilst Lysander is the dominant voice in the narrative, the story offers several other points of view; this lessens the intensity of Lysander's emotional turmoil, but does offer external perspectives on her plight. What to us are small acts of kindness are depicted as important in the world of powerless slaves. The portrayal of the training regime, the slums in towns and the crowded arena felt genuine. I sweated and feared in the heat of the day and expired in the cool evenings.

Whitfield adopts a violent vocabulary in keeping with the vicious nature of the gladiatrices' way of life. Sexual encounters are an escape from the imposed external persona, rather than the lynchpins of developing relationships. His descriptions of combat are highly charged and exciting. The violent narrative and brutality of the characters imposes an authentic distance between the present day reader and the first century gladiaitrix.

Credit: Bill Dodds

Fantasy Book Review

It wasn’t until I saw ‘Gladiator’, for the first time, that I realised women also fought in the arena. I never really paid much attention in history classes and that one must have slipped me by… It didn’t slip Russel Whitfield’s notice though and he’s gone and written a book about it. This is the first historical novel that I’ve reviewed and to be honest I wasn’t sure, at first, if it would fit into the remit of what I’m trying to do with the blog. I picked it up anyway and enjoyed it so much that it definitely gets a mention here.

The plot is simple. Lysandra is a Spartan warrior priestess who has been shipwrecked and sold into slavery as a Gladiatrix, a female gladiator who provides the ‘warm up act’ to the crowd before the main events. It’s a slim hope but the only possible way that Lysandra can regain her freedom is by victory in the arena. Lysandra’s Spartan upbringing will help her survive the arena but she must still contend with the enmity of Sorina, the Gladiatrix Prima, and the brutal Numidian trainer Nastasen…

I really enjoyed reading ‘Gladiatrix’ and I reckon if you’re a fan of historical fiction by authors such as Simon Scarrow and Conn Iggulden then you could do a lot worse than pick this one up for a read. As the title suggests, a lot of the action takes place in the arena and after reading some of the fights I was left feeling almost as bruised as I would have done if I’d been fighting for real! Whitfield isn’t one of those authors who has their characters rushing in waving a sword, there’s evidence of real thought regarding the consequences of each sword thrust and shield block. The fight scenes can sometimes drag on for a bit though, sometimes this serves to increase the tension but at other times it just seems unnecessary (especially if you know that a certain character will win through) and almost cartoonish. The same goes for the ‘romantic sub-plot’ between Lysandra and one of the other gladiatrices, while there were some real poignant moments I’m pretty sure that the sex scenes perhaps didn’t need to be dwelt upon at such great length. It’s cool if you like that kind of thing in your reading but I wanted to find out what happened next!

On the whole though, ‘Gladiatrix’ is an entertaining read that has an air of thorough research about it. Whitfield steers the reader through a series of events in the arena (as well as some hard hitting stuff outside it!) that contrasts well with Lysandra’s journey to reconcile her Spartan upbringing with her new life as a slave. There are plenty of twists and turns and you’re also well advised not to get too attached any particular character; life in the arena is harsh and death is never far away!
If you’ve ever wondered what ‘Gladiator’ would have been like with Angelina Jolie in the main role (surely it’s not just me?) then give ‘Gladiatrix’ a try ;o)

Eight out of Ten

Credit: Graeme Flory