Sword of Rome
Despite the bare male torso adorning the cover of Sword of Rome, readers will find themselves treated to other than the burning hot wallpaper historical the cover copy would lead one to expect. Indeed, though savvy readers will pick out at least one glaring historical error (and several more minor ones), the author treats readers to a detailed story of historical intrigue. If only the romance had woven itself into the story more gracefully, this book would be one to recommend.
Adhania, sister of Lord Ramtat, occupies a position of honor among the Badari tribe of the Egyptian desert. However, her rebellious heart yearns for more than the secluded life of the tribal women. Longing for her brother’s notice and respect, she disguises herself as a young man to enter the contest for the Golden Arrow, an award given to the warrior showing the greatest prowess.
It is her scandalous entry in the contest that first attracts the notice of visiting Roman tribune Marcellus Valerius. When Adhania’s horrified brother decides to send her away to their kinswoman, Queen Cleopatra, who lives in Rome close to her beloved Julius Caesar, Valerius travels with her. It is on this journey that a bond starts to form between the two, one that will only be strengthened by the intrigue Adhania finds in Rome.
The historical backdrop, though containing significant errors, holds the reader’s attention. Much time is devoted to the intrigues of Caesar’s enemies and those loyal to him, most especially the circle surrounding Cleopatra. The intricacies of this plot are interesting and, while they do overshadow the romance a bit, it make for entertaining historical fiction.
The romance is a bit more difficult to grade. While the customs of the time and the intensity of the political plot make the limited interactions between the main characters somewhat believable, it is hard to see how they manage to progress from initial attraction to true love. This made it almost impossible for me to bond with them as a reader.
The author fares better when showing how the characters, particularly Adhania, develop individually as people. Valerius starts as a decent hero, but as the story progresses, he seems to pick up a little more depth, going from being merely “the studly alpha Roman” to someone of more intelligence and a deeply held sense of honor. Adhania starts off dangerously close to feistiness, but as she travels to Rome and finds herself swept up in Cleopatra’s circle, she grows up. Though she remains a little flat or distant at times, I appreciated the maturity Adhania gained as the book progressed.
While this book, taken as a whole, is simply too weak to deserve recommendation, it does capture a very exciting time. Those looking for unusual historical settings may be willing to overlook the book’s weaknesses and simply enjoy a visit back in time. However, given that Ancient Rome seems to be experiencing a small surge in popularity, you might want to hold out for some of the other offerings set in this period.