Princess-turned-gladiatrix Fallon must defend Ludus Achillea from treachery in Livingston’s ancient Rome.
Although she pines for her sweetheart, decurion Cai, and hosting the sullen gladiators of rival Ludas Amazona for mock combat games to entertain elites is far from glorious, things are looking up for Fallon. Her older sister, the Lanista of Ludus Achillea, is about to receive the deed to the school, which means all of its gladiators will be free, fighting by choice instead of because they’re forced. But villainous tribune Pontius Aquila and his secret society, the Sons of Dis (a death cult that eats the hearts of fallen gladiators to gain their strength), have other plans. Instead of Ludus Amazona, Fallon and her fellows find themselves facing actual Amazons. To counter Aquila, the gladiators must navigate treacherous schemes and concoct plans of their own. Of the whiplash-inducing quantity of betrayals, very few will come as a surprise. While all of Fallon’s plans eventually pay off, they’re frequently laid out in blocks of exposition that disrupt the story’s rhythm. The story’s strongest in fight scenes, with techniques well-matched to the characters and situations. Racial descriptors come in the form of side characters’ origins—besides Romans and Greeks, some, such as Queen Cleopatra, come from Aegypt; some are “desert herders; others are Germanic or Celtic, like Fallon.
Girl-power fights make up for less-successful elements. (Historical fantasy. 12-16)