Steeple Hill Books, $5.50, ISBN 978-0-373-82828-9
Historical Romance, 2009
Carla Capshaw offers her debut offering, The Gladiator, and I’m sorry to say that this story – about a Christian young lady, the slave Pelonia, and her relationship with her owner Caros Viriathos, the Roman gladiator in question – could have been the kind of story I normally enjoy. However, in this one, Ms Capshaw requires me to suspend my disbelief way too much. Pelonia mouths off to her owner, acts like a brash and often reckless twit, and the only reason she isn’t dead is because Caros is a much better man that she gives him credit for.
This is an inspirational romance, which means the heroine is a Christian and that she will not marry the man unless she gets him to convert and accept Him first. However, for some reason, “Christian” seems to be interchangeably used as a concept with “gullible” where the heroine is concerned. Early on, when her parents and the rest of her villagers are killed by “marauders”, leaving her and her uncle Marcus as the only survivors, she insists on staying back and burying everyone even if there is a high chance that those marauders will come back for an encore. Marcus, who is predictably nasty because he believes in “pagan ways”, eventually sells her off to a slave trader, and a part of me suspects that the deed is as much an act of self-preservation from Miss Oh Come All Ye Faithful’s toxic presence as it is an act of avarice by a heathen disbeliever.
Caros ends up purchasing her out of pity, as it’s either he or the brothel for Miss That Saved a Wretch Like Me. When Miss Long Lay the World in Sin and Error Pining comes to, she proceeds to mouth off like a war alarm on the eve of World War 2. Never mind that being a Christian is punishable by death, she will not hide her beliefs… and therefore, she asks Caros to free her and send her to her cousin, thereby implicating said cousin should Caros choose to go to the authorities. Miss Lay Thus Lowly Manger has no reason to trust Caros, but she blabs out information that he can use to send her to her death.
Caros is an ex-gladiator who had to kill in order to survive, and he had certainly shed enough blood to be where he is today, a far cry from the slave he once was. Naturally, he believes that his soul is damned. Miss Godly Radiance Beams from My Behind proceeds to judge him, berate him, and make faces at him while secretly shivering in Jesus-approved 100%-non-carnal desire at the sight of his masculine beauty. The emotional maturity between the hero and the heroine is so wide apart, I get flashbacks to the Red Sea parting for Moses and his followers.
Caros’s pain rings real and his eventual discovery of faith offers some poignant moments, but I cannot get over how the heroine is so obviously a modern-day missionary playing dress-up games in this tale. Worse, Miss Bring Us Out a Cheese is such a brat. It is hard for me to believe that any slave can run around and get away with so much nonsense and foolhardy mouthing-off, and as a result, this story never rings real for me. The Gladiator may have some historical details to prettify the background, but with the modern-day brat running around acting like the most perfect Christian diva around, all attempts at historical authenticity are negated by her antics.
Gloria in excelsis Deo, of course, but alas, this is not how a believable first-century Roman romance should be done.