These are the signs that let me know I’m reading a good book:
I wonder what the characters are up to when I’m doing stuff other than reading (i.e. the day job or cooking dinner).
I dream about the characters.
Taking time away from the book is heart-wrenching and guilt enducing.
Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator, by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan hits all three of these points easily and adds a few more to the list.
A couple of pages into this futuristic and yet historic tale, and the reader finds themselves wrapped into an engrossing world, unable to put it down. If you think you’d be unable to picture a universe in which the Roman Empire never fell and sentient and otherwise aliens are under human rule, then you will find yourself pleasantly surprised. The attention to detail held within the pages of this book gives you a vivid depiction of life inside a world where tradition stays inside an evolving culture. The seamless blend of ancient history and futuristic technology create a truly original science fiction genre piece. The universe in which the central character Accala, lives is very much a world in which everyone knows their place. The class structure and indeed, the patriarchy, are very much a part of every day life. If you’re a regular reader of my blog and the reviews on here, you’d think that the patriarchal mindset of this far flung future Roman Empire would anger me and stop me from reading. But very early on, that anger pushed me to keep reading and ‘fighting’ at Accala’s side, just as she fights for her own kind of justice.
The action scenes are intense. Pushing you right into the action alongside the characters. The first of Accala’s fights saw me holding my breath until it was over. The urgency and the injuries were brought to life provocatively, sparing the reader any chance of being aware of the fourth wall. This book does not pull its punches. There are moments where I literally swore out loud, some where I cheered with pure relief, and others still where I found myself wanting to hide behind the covers as the action played out. But unlike with a movie or television show, that’s just not possible when reading a book. You have to keep going if you want to know what happens next.
Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator is graphic and beautiful, harrowing with moments of true insight. Our protagonist is so beautifully flawed that you can’t help but feel drawn to her. The themes of family loyalty, loyalty to self, and loyalty to something bigger, intertwine to create a tableau of inner conflict that is recognisable to all of us. Without wanting to spoil people, there is another thread that weaves itself through the story, pulling on something that fans of Christian and her work will understand and recognise. A good writer draws on their own experience, a fantastic writer will not only draw on that experience but turn it into something more powerful. Christian, together with Buchanan has achieved just that, with language so vivid that the reader has no choice but to feel what Accala is feeling, to see the story with her eyes.
If a book leaves you uncomfortable and yet still wanting more, then it’s doing its job. Just look at George R. R. Martin’s Game of Thrones series if you want an example. Christian and Buchanan have created a book that not only creates that same feeling but encourages you to look at the world around you, how far we have come, and how far we still have to go. Just as all good Sci-Fi should. About halfway through this novel, I knew in my heart that the full story couldn’t be contained within just one book, and the way it ends leaves me in no doubt that this is a series that will keep enduring.