An ancient pillar depicting two female gladiators gives Whitfield the inspiration for his first novel, an action-packed, blood-soaked and sexy sapphic first-century saga. Fans of epic cat fights, girl-on-girl action, war strategy and bloody combat will hardly be put off by the stilted language and clunky character work that litter the way as a shipwrecked Spartan priestess, Lysandra, is forced into combat as a female gladiator. Meanwhile, her lover, the stunning Gladiatrix Secunda Eirianwen, and mean-as-a-snake veteran warrior Sorina mix it up Roman-style for slave owner Lucius Balbus, who runs the lucrative gladiatrix games. Lysandra rises through the ranks, her eyes on buying her freedom, but before she can free herself, she must engage in a breathless, knock-down, drag-out big-screen battle with Sorina. Think: girls gone wild-with swords. (Apr.)Copyright © Reed Business Information, a division of Reed Elsevier Inc. All rights reserved.
Gladiatrixby Russell Whitfield
The Ancient Roman public's hunger for gladiatorial combat has never been greater. The Emperor Domitian's 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/p>
The Ancient Roman public's hunger for gladiatorial combat has never been greater. The Emperor Domitian's 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 Balbus.
But Lysandra's Spartan pride also earns her powerful enemies: Sorina, Gladiatrix Prima and leader of the Barbarian faction, and the sadistic Numidian trainer, Nastasen. When plans are laid for the ultimate combat spectacle to honor the visit of the emperor's powerful new emissary, Lysandra must face her greatest and deadliest trial.
This is a thrilling first novel that combines fascinating historical detail with blistering action.
During the first century c.e., a time when Rome had expanded its empire far beyond the borders of Italia, those who fought against the might of Rome and were captured in battle were frequently brought back to the heart of the empire to take part in gladiatorial games for the entertainment of the masses. Though most of these gladiators were men, debut author Whitfield portrays women slaves who were trained as fighters to provide an amusing, albeit equally bloody, spectacle between the more serious arena bouts. Following a shipwreck, Lysandra, a 19-year-old Spartan priestess of Athena, is captured and sold to a training school for female gladiatrices, where she excels in the art of combat and becomes the adored darling of the games. Arrogant and self-righteous, Lysandra is not a particularly sympathetic character. The novel is further marred by the lack of historical context, though Whitfield does elaborate on time and place in the author's notes. Still, for its description of the games and the lives of gladiatrices, this is an intriguing and action-packed read. Purchase where there is demand for historical fiction of the ancient world.
Jane Henriksen Baird
“A great debut that shines an entirely new light on the glory and the bloodshed of the Roman arena...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 Under the Eagle
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By Russell Whitfield
St. Martin's PressCopyright © 2008 Russell Whitfield
All rights reserved.
Lysandra would never forget her first time.
Alone, she walked through the darkness of the passageway towards the sun-filled amphitheatre.
As she drew closer to the arena, she became aware of the sound from above — a rhythmic, thrumming cadence that began at the periphery of her consciousness. Distant at first, it became hypnotic as a siren's song, permeating the stone around her, penetrating her to the very bone.
Lysandra battled to keep her churning emotions in check. Fear flowed through her veins and, for a moment, she faltered. Yet part of her surged with the desire to face this most terrible of challenges. It flared only briefly but burned hot enough to sear away her terror. From the darkness, she stepped into the harsh light of the arena.
The roar of the crowd was a living thing as it assaulted her and she staggered beneath its violent intensity. Row upon row of the screaming mob surrounded her, the amphitheatre stuffed full, as if it were a massive god gorging upon base humanity. Her vision swam as she registered innumerable faces, twisted and distorted, their mouths wide open with howls of lust and anticipation.
A fetid stench rose from the freshly raked sands, filling her nostrils with the reek of blood mingled with the excrement of slaughtered animals. The venatores, wild beast hunters, had been at their work that day, butchering hundreds of creatures for the delight of the crowd. Her stomach lurched, raw nerves screaming at her to run, to flee this Tartarus made flesh, but again she fought down the urge.
The baying of the frenzied mob increased in its intensity. Her eyes narrowed as she gazed across the arena; emerging from the tunnel that faced her own was another woman.
Lysandra was only vaguely aware of an arena slave rushing up and thrusting two short swords into her sweat slick hands, as she focused on her adversary. She realised that the combatants must have been chosen for their physical differences. Whereas she was tall and slender, her foe was short and solidly built, her limbs chunky. To Lysandra's Spartan eyes, she looked downright vulgar. Huge, udder-like breasts heaved beneath her white tunic, threatening to burst forth from their confinement. This study of Gallic typicality was crowned by straw-coloured hair, the final contrast to the raven-black tresses of Lysandra's own. There were but two similarities: the weapons they bore and the certain knowledge that, in scant minutes, one of them would die.
The Gaul turned towards the dignitaries' box and raised her right arm in salute. Lysandra, though unused to arena etiquette, emulated her. She had spent her whole life in ritual observance and made the gesture with confidence. Not that it mattered. The richly clad Roman whom Lysandra assumed to be Sextus Julius Frontinus, the governor and procurator of Asia Minor, did not bother to acknowledge them, his attentions clearly focused on the dusky charms of the slave girl by his side.
Lysandra turned towards her opponent. The two women faced each other, the sea green eyes of the Gaul locked with her own. For interminable moments, they stood, their emotions mirrored in each other's gaze, and Lysandra felt a sudden, sharp regret at their plight. Though they were not foes of their own volition, Lysandra knew she could not stay her hand. Her eyes hardened with the resoluteness to survive and she saw the other woman nod as she too came to this realisation. They raised their weapons.
For a few heartbeats, all was still. Then, with sudden violence the Gaul attacked and the strangely beautiful sound of iron striking iron sang out as Lysandra met her assault. The Celtic warrior screamed and cursed as she laid in, imbibing rage-fuelled courage. There was no order to her attack, just a constant flurry of hacking blows, dealt with all the strength the stocky body could provide. She was like an avalanche, rolling forward, crushing everything in her path.
Lysandra knew she must be as mist. Most of her life had been spent preparing for combat: a ritual training to be certain; a ceremonial skill never meant to be called upon. But now, in the stark reality of mortal threat, this hard-learnt preparation came to the fore, and her body responded instinctively.
It was as if her opponent was moving underwater. As the Gaul initiated an attack, Lysandra's own blade moved to deflect the blow. Do not meet force with force, she told herself as she weaved away from the onslaught. Her refusal to engage in a slogging match seemed to encourage her foe, who redoubled her efforts. The Gaul's feet churned up sand as she pursued Lysandra across the arena, slashing and cutting at thin air. As the chase wore on the crowd erupted into a chorus of boos and cat-calls, demanding more action.
Sweat now plastered the Gaul's yellow hair to her forehead and darkened the sheer white tunic to gauzy grey. Lysandra saw her shoulders heaving with exertion as she evaded another attack. The Gaul paused momentarily, gasping for breath. It was obvious that she was weakening but, more, her confidence had drained and the insidious worm of doubt was now eating at her fighting spirit. Gamely, she raised her swords, and a sudden rush of fire filled Lysandra's veins. Now, her instincts screamed at her. Now was the time.
Her blades whirled, blurring in their swiftness as she mercilessly turned defence to attack. Her opponent's parries became frenzied with awful suddenness as she back-stepped, swords moving frantically to deflect the onslaught.
Lysandra pressed in harder, the Gaul only stopping her now at the last possible instant. She increased her efforts, engaging in a final, furious exchange of blows with her desperate opponent. As the impact of blade on blade jarred her arm, she felt the last strength leech from the barbarian and smashed through her guard.
There was no remorse: just a wondrous, beautiful exultation as she felt the other woman's flesh yield and part as she rammed home her blade. The Gaul made a choking sound, huge gouts of blood vomiting from her mouth and the gaping wound in her chest. Lysandra dragged the blade out and, using her own momentum, spun about. Her sword caught the staggering woman on the neck, severing the head from her body; it arced skywards, the eyes and mouth wide open, frozen forever in shock and pain. The headless body stood wavering for what seemed like an eternity before, with an almost reverential slowness, it toppled backwards and crashed to the sand, blood spreading out behind the gaping neck like a crimson pillow.
With chilling abruptness reality crashed back down upon Lysandra, the roar of the crowd cascading over her, drenching her in a waterfall of dissonance. It was a bizarre tableau: the corpse still twitching at her feet and, approaching her, a tall man, clad as Charon, the ferryman of the dead, bearing a hooked staff. Slowly, and with a degree of ceremony, 'Charon' retrieved the Gaul's head, then attached her torso to the staff. At the same formal pace, he retreated, dragging the body behind him.
Lysandra backed away, then turned and made her way towards the tunnel, her thoughts a confused morass of elation, guilt and relief.CHAPTER 2
Lysandra stared disconsolately through the bars of the moving prison, watching the arid Carian landscape roll by with mind-numbing slowness. Nothing broke the monotony of the view, save for a few hardy shrubs, the odd dusty hillock and the occasional traveller heading towards the city.
The cart had been bouncing along for some hours, leaving the sprawl of Halicarnassus far behind. Certainly, what she had seen of the streets as they left the city had impressed upon her the size of the place: compared to her home polis of Sparta, it was gigantic and somewhat vulgar. That, she considered, was to be expected of Asiatic Hellenes, who were all fawning imitators of the Romans as far as she was concerned. Not that she knew any personally, but then stories were not told if there was no substance to them.
She was one of seven prisoners in the carriage, but Balbus's train snaked back a good deal further, and she could only assume that she had been placed with the lanista's latest 'acquisitions.' The others in the cart were all of barbarian stock and unable to speak Latin, let alone her native Hellenic. However, this did not stop them from babbling in their own incomprehensible tongues, the sound of which set her teeth on edge.
After her bout in the arena, Lysandra had been shuffled unceremoniously to a cell to wait out the day's entertainments. Admittedly she had been fed and even given a perfunctory examination by a surgeon to see if she was injured. Her state of health established, she was locked away in the dark and forgotten until it was time for Balbus's caravan to leave. She had tried to ask questions as they dragged her towards the waiting prison cart but, having ascertained that she was now the 'property of Lucius Balbus,' any further enquiry was met with a barked order to remain silent, followed by a sharp slap around the face when she persisted.
Physical pain was something she had been taught to endure since childhood, but the blow served to remind her of her new status. She was almost physically sick when the word came unbidden to her thoughts.
And worse, an arena slave — the lowest of the low — hardly more than an animal. She had become a part of the most derided echelon of society. It was almost too much to bear, but she consoled herself with the knowledge that, as soon as the owner of the troupe found out who she was, this ridiculous situation would be fully rectified.
A tap on her shoulder broke her reverie and Lysandra turned to see a red-haired barbarian offering her a chunk of bread. This dubious gift was clutched in filth-begrimed fingers and she was tempted to slap the hand away; yet the smile the woman gave her was genuine and she realised it would be petulant to refuse the offer. She hoped her returning smile did not look too much like a grimace and took the proffered loaf. The woman gave her a sisterly pat on the arm and returned to sit with her companions. Lysandra went back to her brooding but was inwardly grateful for this act of solidarity.
They journeyed for several days and, to her surprise, they were given food at regular intervals. The fare was of excellent quality: a stew of meat and barley, superior to any Lysandra had previously tasted. In fact, their captors seemed at pains to keep the women in good health, which was contrary to much of what she had heard about the life of a slave. Aside from the lice that had infested all of the captives, the trek was, if not pleasant, at least bearable.
Indeed, communication had, to some extent, sprung up between Lysandra and her barbarian companions. Through some faintly comedic pantomiming she had learned that the red-haired woman was named Hildreth. She and her fellows were of the Chattian tribe, which Lysandra identified at once as Germanic.The Chattians were well known throughout the Empire; their warriors had been giving the emperor's legions hell along the Rhenus River for some years.
Hildreth, of course, had not heard of Hellas; even when Lysandra referred to her homeland as Greece in the Roman manner, the tribeswoman responded with a shrug and a shake of her head. Lysandra thought it pointless to pursue this any further. Geography was going to be far beyond their level of comprehension. Instead, she concentrated on teaching the Germans rudimentary Latin. Unfortunately, the reputation barbarians carried for an innate slowness of wit was not unfounded and she persevered only to occupy her time rather than from any real desire to educate them.
Soon, however, the prison cart was alive with the sound of harshly accented Latin cries such as 'sky!' 'tree!' and 'stone!' which quickly graduated to such statements as 'I-do-not-speak-Latin-can-you-speak-German?'
It was all good fun at first, but inevitably the hilarity that the lessons produced amongst the tribeswomen attracted the attentions of Balbus's guards, who admonished them to keep the noise down with much threatening and brandishing of stout clubs to ensure the message got across.
Nevertheless, Lysandra found the diversion had worked. Time slipped by easily enough so that it was a shock to her when she spied a long, walled structure in the distance; unmistakably, this was their final destination.
An expectant hush fell over the prisoners as the caravan wound its leisurely way towards the construction. As they drew closer, Lysandra reckoned that it was akin to a miniature Troy, so soundly were the walls constructed. The ponderous wroughtiron gates swung open, and the caravan passed beneath an arched sign that proclaimed that this was Lucius Balbus's School of Gladiatrices.
Lysandra leant forward, her hands gripping the iron of the bars of the cage as they entered the ludus. The place was a hive of cacophonous activity, teeming with women involved in various martial exercises. The clack of wooden weapons filled the air, mingling with shouted orders from the trainers and cries of both exultation and exasperation. It was a familiar scene and, despite her circumstances, she found it strangely comforting.
The doors to the cage rattled open and the guards beckoned them out, shouting an order in their guttural barbarian language. Lysandra could sense the horror flooding through the group.
'Take your clothes off and throw them there,' a guard repeated, this time in Latin. Lysandra shrugged: in Sparta, all exercises were conducted gymnos, nude; the body was something to be proud of after all. She complied, glad to be rid of the filthy tunic.
Her companions followed her example reluctantly, and she was at once aware of their issue: evidently, in Germania, the body was not something to be proud of. Bereft of their clothes, the tribeswomen were an absurd-looking group. True, she herself was fair skinned, but these women had an almost pale-blue aspect to them. Heavy breasts hung from too-white torsos and such a shock and variety of pubic hair was revealed. Lysandra had to bite her lip not to laugh. Manlike tufts she had seen under their arms on their journey to the ludus, but the complete Germanic nude was comedic in its hairy extreme.
'You speak Latin.' The guard's statement interrupted her critique of the tribal form. She eyed the man, and found him to be short, squat and somewhat ill favoured. Not a barbarian, but close enough, he had the look of a Macedonian about him. She drew herself up.
'Yes. And evidently better than you.'
The man was nonplussed: he gaped at her for a moment, his mouth falling open; the others quietened, as stunned by the arrogant response as he was. The atmosphere was heavy and uncertain for a moment before one of the men fell about laughing at his companion's embarrassment. The reaction spread and the guards hooted and guffawed at her audacity.The Germans looked around, unsure of what was happening.
The Macedonian shook his head. 'You're lucky I don't beat you black and blue,' he said, but the previous mirth undermined his threat. 'Let's get you and your barbarian pets cleaned up.' He motioned for them to start walking.
As the group moved away, the guard noted that the Greek's flippant mouth had landed her in trouble before. Though from the front she was beautiful and flawless, her back was marked by a latticework of pale scars.
They were led the length of the training compound, giving them an opportunity to take in their surroundings. As the exterior suggested, the ludus was more of a walled town in miniature than a prison. Squat stone huts were set all along one side of the massive training area, which Lysandra assumed to be the slave quarters — her quarters, she thought sullenly. Opposite these were opulent villa-style houses, set much further back from the noise and dust. Fountains and statues were evident, and Lysandra made a gesture of acquiescence as she passed an image of Minerva, the Roman name for the goddess Athene. The far end of the ludus was dominated by a large bath house and it was there she and the barbarians were taken.
The guards ushered them through the entrance and passed them into the care of several slave women, the eldest of whom was a severe-looking German who announced herself as Greta. Fortunately, some of the other attendants spoke Hellenic and hearing the music of her own language lifted Lysandra's mood somewhat.
Excerpted from Gladiatrix by Russell Whitfield. Copyright © 2008 Russell Whitfield. Excerpted by permission of St. Martin's Press.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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Meet the Author
RUSSELL WHITFIELD's lifelong interest in Ancient Greece and Rome inspired him to write his first novel, Gladiatrix. He lives in England.
Russell Whitfield's lifelong interest in Ancient Greece and Rome inspired him to write his first novel, Gladiatrix. He lives in England.
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Gladiatrix Russell Whitfield St. Martin's, Apr 14 2009, $14.95 ISBN: 9780312534882 In the first century, those opposing the ever expanding Roman Empire are either killed or brought into the arena to serve as gladiators. The spectacle does not care about gender as female gladiators are a welcomed sight. Nineteen year old Athena priestess Lysandra of Sparta is taken prisoner after a shipwreck. She is sent to combat school to learn to fight in the arena. She soon enters the combat zone owned by slaver Lucius Balbus and proves capable winning her battles. Her goal and that of her lover Secunda Eirianwen are to win their freedom. Whereas he battles a foe in a war to the death she enters mortal combat with an equally lethal adversary. This is an intriguing action-packed ancient Rome thriller that puts a gender bender spin to classic movies like Spartacus and Gladiator. The story line is action-packed from the opening sequence when the tall thin Lysandra defeats her short stocky barbaric opponent and never slows down. Readers will have mixed feelings towards her as at times we will root for her and in other times incidents are against her. Although a lack of a sense of being in the first century Roman Empire (minimal background information to anchor time and place) detracts from the interesting "sports" fiction, Russell Whitfield provides the audience with an exciting tale of survival in the arena. Harriet Klausner
This book was amazing!! It kept me wanting more and as much as I couldnt wait to read to the end, I was sad when it was over. So excited to read the next book. This story would make an awesome movie.
This book kept me riveted and turning pages. It was like the Starz series Spartacus, only better. I loved the descriptive combat scenes, the well crafted characters and the story of proud, Spartan Lysandra. I read Roma Victrix immediately afterward and loved it as well. These two books are keepers on my shelf. I just hope Mr. Whitfield is planning another book in this series. Oh, and Starz, take note! This would make a fantastic premier channel series.
Will the second come out for the nook?
The beginning seemed great, I read straight on through while even opting out of a chance to watch one of my favorite TV shows (i dont watch much TV) with my family. It has strong, likable characters and a great plot. This book is very original and while reading i could almost taste the sand of the arena, smell the metallic blood, it was all very promising and I'm sure its a great read the whole way through. My only problem with the book was more of a personal issue than anything else, i just felt uncomfortable reading a female on female sex scene and put the book down as it seemed thats where it was heading. I have no problems with lesbian and bisexual people, I just couldn't read it myself as thats not my orientation. Overall im sure the whole book is amazing, just a matter of preference.
If you can get get your hands on this book, do it! It was a great read!
I wasnt sure how i was going to like this book because i didnt really know anything about gladiators or anything back then, but i was surprised at how easy the writing style was to read. everything made sense, the characters drew me in and i found myself unable to put the book down. Everything about the book was amazing and i would DEFINITELY recommend it to others.
I didn't know anything about this book when I picked it up and I found out it was really different. A nice change. It started out really strong and stayed that way until the point I put it down. I really liked it at the begining, because it was something different and I had never read anything about gladiators. Lysandra is a strong character that kept you wanting more. I had to stop, because I couldn't take reading a description about two females having a hot steamy scene. Don't get me wrong, my daughter is a lesbian, but I had a problem getting past the love scenes.