Blood and Sand by C.V. Wyk
Forged in battle…
From the dust of the arena…
A legend will rise.
Rome is building an Empire. Led by the notorious and vicious Flavius family, the country has already invaded Britannia, as well as Thrace, the greatest warrior kingdom the world has ever seen since Sparta. Attia was once destined to rule Thrace as a queen, but the Romans have destroyed her homeland, leaving devastation and death in their wake. Attia herself is enslaved and forgotten, the last remaining Thracian. When she is given to the gladiator Xanthus, Champion of Rome as a prize to show his master’s favour, Attia tells herself she’d rather go out with a fight than allow herself to be a slave.
But against all the odds, Attia and Xanthus begin to form a bond. Both are desperate to escape their lives, and they are willing to spark a rebellion to ensure they win their freedom. Their rebellion threatens to bring the Roman Republic to its end– and gives rise to the legend of Spartacus…
What if Spartacus was a girl?
This is one of those books that I figured would be either really good or really bad. My friend happened to get multiple copies through book subscription boxes, so she offered me her spare copy. Thanks @themoonkestrel for that [now go and check out her blog!]
I realized pretty early on that it was going to be a good read. There’s lots of tension from the get-go, and there’s so much at stake that you can’t help but cheer for the characters or groan when things go wrong for them. Attia is such a strong female protagonist, and apart from being a kickass at fighting, she’s clearly a mentally strong person too, since she’s forced to become a slave but still dreams of escape, and she refuses to be degraded or do the work she’s being forced to do. And yet, despite her position and lack of freedom, she’s also fundamentally kind to those who deserve it, be it fellow slaves, gladiators or even her dominus’ family. There’s some really cute scenes where Attia looks after Aurora, a girl who happens to be the niece of her master. They really made my heart melt and I loved every moment of it.
Likewise, Xanathus is a complex and intriguing character. He’s seen by some as a bloodthirsty monster, a godlike warrior who can defeat anyone in a fight to the death. He does some very questionable things in order to win, such as killing a boy, but overall, it is clear that he feels incredibly uncomfortable doing what he is being made to do, and the nuances of this are done well enough that it is difficult to dislike him, despite his bloody occupation. The other characters are treated in much the same way, with enough detail and outlining that they are all fascinating, and it is one of the real strengths of the book.
History-wise, I can’t really say too much. A note in the book says it is based on historical events, but I only did a brief glimpse of Roman history at GCSE level, so it’s hard for me to say if it is really on point with events. I know some of them have been mashed together in order to add tension to the plot, but obviously it is meant to be historical fiction not a non-fic account, so I can’t complain at the author for making it a more interesting thrill-ride. I did like seeing some of the Roman terms and things woven into the story, and as far as I know, nothing really triggered that false reading in my little history-loving brain, so I’m going to go ahead and say that it earned brownie points for authenticity and research. Plus the premise was really cool. I wasn’t sold on the whole ‘what if Spartacus was a girl’ angle at first, thinking it was going to be like the all-female Ghostbusters fiasco again, but in the end I think this book did justice to a story which is scintillating and riveting.
I have to stress that this isn’t a book for everyone though. Obviously there are some quite heavy issues in this novel, what with all the violence and slave owning. There’s no graphic scenes of sexual assault, but there’s quite clear hints at it, as well as some scenes which show the aftermath of domestic abuse and then there’s the whole gladiator fighting stuff, so if you’re triggered by any of these things, I’d suggest trying a different book. The novel was an awesome read, but it doesn’t hold back on any of this stuff, so open it with caution.
If I could find any real flaws in Blood and Sand it was probably that the book lacked detail at times. It was a short read, only 306 pages. and I found myself wanting a little more. The pace is relentless, and in some ways that’s great. It was a very quick page-turner, but yeah, I loved the characters so much I wanted to find out more about them and the world. Some of the links between characters make sense in a historical way, but I thought it could have connected the dots just a little more clearly in order for readers to know what was going on. Mostly, it just lacked a little something for me, and I can’t quite put my finger on what it was exactly, which is a bit of a shame because I thought the formula was a really good one.
That ending though. Wow, that was quite a soul-wrenching moment. I won’t say too much about it, because it would be nice if this review could remain spoiler free, but it was such a BIG DEAL that it took me a few moments to wrap my head around. The twists in this novel are quite subtle, and though I predicted some of them, others came as a huge shock.
I decided to give Blood and Sand a 7.5/10 overall. The characters and pacing were awesome, but I felt like it just missed that little added spark of something to make me really sit up and take notice.