The Last Gladiatrix by Eva Scott Blends History and Fierce Romance

3 Jun

The Last Gladiatrix by Eva Scott (Harlequin Escape, April 2013)

I do enjoy novels of Ancient Rome, so I was intrigued by the premise of The Last Gladiatrix by Eva Scott when I saw it available as a novella from NetGalley.

Xanthe is a woman on a mission. Her younger brother went missing and it’s her duty as a warrior to her clan to bring him home. Set upon by a gang of Huns, she is brought before a Roman general as a tribute. Hearing that she slew seven of the men before being taken, he decides to put her in the arena where she can make money for him prior to being killed.

Centurion Titus takes one look into the fierce warrior woman’s eyes and feels the ground shift under his feet. Hearing the general’s plan, he offers to take care of the prisoner and train her for the arena during their march back to Rome. Close to leaving the army, he’s considering working as a gladiator trainer anyway, and this is a good chance to be close to the wild beauty.

Xanthe is frustrated that she doesn’t understand what’s being spoken around her, but luckily the handsome Roman speaks a dialect close enough to her own. He helps explain her situation and clearly wants to help her survive this “Colosseum” he refers to. She loves warming his bed but can’t stand other Romans or the city and counts the days until she can escape, hopefully with Titus by her side. Yet Titus cannot use the property of the general – in this case, Xanthe’s body – without putting them both in danger, and their secret is betrayed. When the price of her freedom might be that of her newfound love, Xanthe isn’t sure she can pay it.

I loved the characters of Xanthe and Titus. In only 97 pages, the reader gets a good picture painted of both characters and their background, rapidly understanding these are two people with similar warrior values who unsurprisingly come together. I felt that the sex scenes could have been more in depth (basically you get the sense they are really attracted to each other and BAM they are kissing and having sex in only a few paragraphs – I wanted more!) but the affection between them was substantial and real.

There were a few historical elements that I’m pretty sure were off (I don’t think gladiators – or anyone other than the Imperial family – could wear purple, for example) but they were very minor. I think Eva Scott actually made Rome a lot less sinister than it actually was, but I appreciated her executive decisions since it moved the plot along. Considering that gladiators were often pimped out to aristocrats, I have trouble believing a beautiful female fighter wouldn’t have met the same fate and continued to earn her owner plenty of money. Thank goodness it didn’t happen to Xanthe (although she would have gutted anyone who tried).

Never having heard of Escape Publishing, I discovered that they are an Australian publishing house devoted to romance (of all subgenres) and owned by Harlequin. Hmmm. I was sufficiently impressed enough by this novella and Escape’s website to keep a close eye on future offerings from this publisher!

Considering the open-ended final paragraph that left the writer capable of shifting to Xanthe’s missing brother’s story (with a glimpse at our happy couple, perhaps?) I’ll be purchasing this author’s future historical novellas. Great job, Eva Scott and Escape!

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