Publisher: St. Martin’s Griffin
[Originally posted on Amazon 2/5/12]
This is a difficult book to review because if I am rating purely on my enjoyment factor of the story, it’s a solid 4 star book. However, there are actually a lot of problems with the writing and editing, and on that basis I don’t feel I can hand out more than 3 stars. Let’s call it a 3.5 star book.
I had originally read the sample for Gladiatrix about a year ago, and while I was intrigued enough to want to read more, I wasn’t sold on the writing itself. I wasn’t convinced Whitfield would be able to successfully carry it off. I put it on my wishlist and hoped for a price drop, which never happened. But happily for me a friend gave this to me as a birthday gift, so it was a welcome indulgence.
I think the biggest issue in terms of story and characterization was that there was never any growth or increasing self-awareness in regards to Lysandra’s complete and utter arrogance. There were small changes, but these were accompanied by her denial of their meaning, and there was never a time when she became able to see herself through the eyes of others. Despite falling in love with a Barbarian, and gaining respect for a few other non-Spartans, Lysandra never has any sort of epiphany, and I was waiting for one the entire book. Connected with this, the reader is continually bludgeoned over the head with the Spartan viewpoint of superiority. This sort of repetition really annoys after a while.
There were other issues with the writing, indicating to me a beginning author. (I’ve been assuming this is Whitfield’s first published novel.) For instance, the same word used twice in close proximity several times. An example: Lysandra could not fail to be impressed by the sheer beauty of the abode. It was only by sheer effort of will that she did not gawk…. This helps demonstrate why I was frustrated with the low level of editorial attention paid to the book.
Another thing that bugged me, and I’m not sure there is a good way to avoid it, is that the frequent use of Latin and Greek words meant a lot of words are in italics. Normally when reading, an italicized word means to stress it. In this case of course it’s to indicate a foreign language. But the ingrained message is still there to place stress on the word, and it becomes a bit mentally exhausting after a while. If that makes any sense. I’d have preferred the Latin and Greek words to have been plain text to make for a more enjoyable reading experience. Does the weapon “sarissa” really need to be italicized?
So if the writing felt a bit bumbling at times, why did I like the book so much? Well, women with swords is the simple answer. I really dig women with swords. For a more complex answer: Whitfield wrote a smashing good story full of interesting characters, violence, love, lust, combat, and feuds, while making great use of ancient world geography, cultures, and history. He would have had to stumble pretty badly for that to not be a winning combination. I read the book straight through, hardly putting it down.
One last thing I’ll mention that is not a problem for me, but for some odd reason apparently bothers some American readers, the novel is written using British English spelling and punctuation standards.
KINDLE NOTE: Because there are so many proofreading errors it is difficult to ascertain which, if any, are specific to the Kindle edition. St. Martin’s Griffin, an imprint of Macmillan, should be ashamed of putting out such a poor book, especially for this price (ten bucks). It’s not that the book is so error-ridden that it is unreadable, but the errors are frequent enough to be quite irritating, especially when produced by one of the big publishers. Lots of punctuation mistakes, no space after periods, words dropped from sentences, wrong words used (“could” instead of “couldn’t” and “through” instead of “thorough”), along with outright typos, etc.
[Blog Note: The main character, Lysandra, falls in love with a woman, one of the other fighters. But this should not be considered a romance novel by any stretch. This book isn’t for the faint of heart, or those who don’t indulge in guilty pleasure type reading. The novel contains a brutal rape and the combat violence is pretty graphic. Also, one thing I forgot to mention in my Amazon review is that I was uncomfortable with the racist overtones of the worst character being an African. With all that said, I enjoyed reading the book!]