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GLADIATORS by Edna  Cline


by Edna Cline

Pub Date: Feb. 21st, 2012
ISBN: 978-1-4497-3528-9
Publisher: Westbow Press

In this historical novel, a Roman soldier is torn between his loyalty to his emperor and his growing adoration for a religious leader he’s charged with tracking: Jesus of Nazareth. 

Shortly after T. Bracia Octavio’s appointment to the Praetorian Guard, his fellow soldiers brutally murder him and his wife in a politically motivated act. He leaves behind an infant boy, Octaviate; he’s rescued by his paternal grandfather, Terullus, who flees with the boy to Jerusalem. By the time Octaviate reaches his late teens, he’s bristling at Terellus’ discipline, so he spontaneously enlists in Caesar’s legions. At 19, he marries 16-year-old Decima, a comely but violent woman; Octaviate tells her that her “lovely head incubates the brain of a cobra.” After 10 years of torturous marriage, he files for divorce, but she exacts her revenge by falsely accusing him of treason—a charge for which he must stand trial. Cline’s (The Portrait Postmortem, 2009) realistically depicts the political climate of the day in a corrupt Roman republic that harshly rules over its Jewish subjects; the Romans’ fears of insurrection are catalyzed by the charismatic preacher, Jesus, whom some Jews see as the messiah. Octaviate is moved by the plight of the Jews; he befriends a Jewish family and takes in their young boy, Jason, after Roman soldiers execute his parents. Octaviate is tasked with keeping a watchful eye on Jesus but becomes increasingly convinced he may be whom his disciples claim. Cline’s story lacks tautness, as too many subplots distract from the main story. Also, her prose can be melodramatically overwrought at times: “Cornelius Marcus, my good woman, is the spawn of a Syrian harlot who mated with an asp which was begotten of a jackal.” However, her mastery of the historical details is impressive; in particular, she provides a compelling account of Barabbas, a lesser-known figure from the Gospels. 

A historically exacting but somewhat-overwritten portrait of the times of Jesus.