Set in the Roman Empire, a debut novel that rivals the ancient epics—at least for length. At the birth of Auriane, daughter of Baldemar, chieftain of a Germanic tribe during the reign of Roman emperor Nero, the priestess Ramis bestows her with a rare amulet and predicts that she will slay her father and become a priestess. During her teenage years, Auriane seems to defy fate, becoming a celebrated warrior among her people, who fend off Roman invaders in intoxicating battles fought with spears and shields. When they are defeated, the now legendary Auriane is captured alive for the pleasure of the new emperor, Domitian. On the night of the dreaded consummation she meets her true love and fellow wearer of the rare amulet, Marcus Julianus, the son of one of Baldemar's military opponents but himself a philosopher who spent his childhood in slavery. The romance blossoms while Auriane spars as a gladiator in the newly built Roman Colosseum and Marcus plots to overthrow Domitian. Marcus wants to whisk Auriane away, but she insists upon remaining until she slays her father's betrayer: the burly Odberht, once member of a rival tribe and now a gladiator/celebrity. It's refreshing to discover a female character who is heroic without being annoyingly spunky, and Gillespie's escapist tale commendably evokes the themes of virtue and noble sacrifice that characterized the literature of the Roman Empire. However, although the author tries to incorporate ancient magic, customs, and history into the story, these are merely gimmicks to unite a fiery barbarian girl with a brooding bourgeois boy. Their romance is plausible enough- -they are both intelligent, charismatic figures—but, despite the book's formidable size, the most interesting developments, such as the coup instigated by Marcus and Auriane's relationship with Baldemar, seems to happen in the wings, encapsulated in explanatory paragraphs. Earnest ambitions, but essentially a protracted, middling love story.
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