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Book Review: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator
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Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator
Hardcover | Kindle
Written by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan
Tor Books
Release Date: June 28, 2016
Cover Price: $26.99

I read very quickly. This is a fact that few will even attempt to dispute. But there is a caveat when it comes to fiction: I have to like the book. Not to say I didn’t enjoy all of Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator, but there were some extraordinarily trying times during the consumption of this novel. I normally love anything that has even the slightest bit of history or historical reference but when it’s delivery is the equivalent of my monotoned American History professor from my freshman year, I sort of lose focus. Luckily, there were some spectacular chapters that all but redeemed this book in my eyes.

Read on for more!

To begin, the story starts off with our protagonist, Accala of House Viridian, suffering through a nightmare of how her mother and brother were killed on a faraway planet. In truth, this is less a dream and more of a fact, as they were slain by a rival house almost two years prior. Vowing revenge, Accala has been training with the intent of serving her own brand of justice on those she feels are responsible. Opposed by her own family, she seeks and finds away to compete in the Ludi Romani, the emperor’s gladitorial games that are held, oddly enough, on the same distant planet where her family members perished. Those of the guilty opposing house are destined to compete in the same games so it seems prudent that she also attend.

Branded traitor by her own people, Accala deems her mission of vengeance to be of the utmost importance, superseding everything else in her life. Intrigue and violence are a way of life for the people with whom she has allied herself. Constantly at odds with herself and almost everyone else, she relies on a select few to help guide her, all the while questioning their motives. I am being necessarily vague so as not to spoil the primary plot. Additionally, I’m simplifying this quite a lot, so please understand there are nuances within the plot that are constantly expanding into subplots but I think those are better left explored as surprises.

Five pages shy of five hundred, this is a decent sized book that I feel could have been edited down to right at half of its current length. The setup was long but still left me feeling disconnected from Accala, she felt two-dimensional and overtly typical. There was little originality to her character or her story. But as a good little reader, I kept trudging along. And I’m glad I did. Had I not, I would never have discovered the true beauty inside this story: the fight scenes! For all the plainness and mediocrity of the build up, the action sequences were incomparable. I was on the edge of my proverbial seat, enrapt with anticipation.

Thinking the novel had finally found its stride, I stayed up all night to finish it. To my chagrin I found it to be quite the roller coaster, all the combat exploits were riveting while the primary plot nearly lulled me to sleep more than once. When I finally finished, I found myself feeling let down. The story was brought to an end, albeit by the longest path possible, and my feeling is that a sequel will be forthcoming, based on the ending. To this day, I’m not exactly sure how I feel about that.

The authors, Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan, seemed to want to bring this story to life in a grand way. Christian comes from a background that includes acting, directing, and producing. Her pedigree includes fan favorites like Babylon 5 and Disney’s Atlantis. Buchanan is better known in his capacity as an author, often in conjunction with Christian. Besides writing her memoir and scripting a movie with her, he has also worked on a few short stories and comics.

I will be the first to say that I enjoy the concept of the book, though I find the writing itself to be a challenge. If they do indeed continue in this vein, I hope they will learn to refine the composition and smooth it out a bit more.

I would love to recommend this book, but it might not appeal to everyone. The references to Ancient Rome are myriad but not substantial. Being that this is a novel that encompasses not just a story of a Rome that never fell on Earth but one that spans the galaxy, it deals more with fiction than fact, which is to be expected. I would say that diehard fans of all things Rome will enjoy it far more than the average reader. It is science fiction with a teaspoon of history and a pinch of fantasy. Make of that what you will.

Wolf's Empire: Gladiator

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