Raised in the city of Capua, renowned for its gladiator training grounds—Lucius, a young patrician, is unprepared for the obsessive desire that almost overwhelms him when he first sees Callistus, a captive Gaul condemned to a life, and probable death, in the arena. Unsuccessful in his attempt to buy Callistus and save him from a premature death, Lucius instead follows his career, attending all of his bouts in the arena, including one with Spartacus, the rebel slave. Spartacus incites Callistus and his fellow gladiators to rebel and form an unbeatable army, almost bringing the Roman legions to their knees.
Although torn between his love for Callistus and loyalty to his friends and family, Lucius determines that before one, or both of them might die, he must find Callistus, confess his feelings, and spend at least one night in the arms of the man he loves.
When Damian, a young artist, is commissioned to sculpt the image of Demetrios, Rome’s current darling of the arena, he finds himself falling in love with the handsome gladiator. Despite his father’s vow to disown him, Damian follows his heart—and when he and Demetrios are caught in the conflagration that threatens to destroy Rome, their love for one another gives them the strength to survive the flames.
But their future together looks uncertain when Damian, rounded up along with Christians accused of setting the fire, is separated from Demetrios and forced into a fight to the death in the arena.
Review by Alex Beecroft
‘Slaves to Love’ is a beautifully written book consisting of two novellas. The linking factor which connects the two stories is the fact that in each story a youth of a Patrician Roman family falls in love with a gladiator.
In the first story, Lucius and Callistus, patrician Lucius, a rather limp youth, falls for a barbarian warrior, Callistus. Callistus is a barbarian chieftain, captured in the wars and forced to fight as a gladiator. He soon becomes involved with fellow gladiator Spartacus’s rebellion, and clearly leads a much more exciting life than Lucius, who is a (lackadaisical) teacher. The big drawback of this story, to me, is that all the exciting things are happening off camera, as it were. We are riding along in Lucius’ point of view, while he worries about his big brave man away at the war, but we don’t get to see any of the action.
In point of fact, Callistus treats Lucius exactly as a traditional hero treats his lady; he keeps the youth away from any danger, sends him home and refuses to allow him to participate in Callistus’ dangerous life at all. I believe this is meant to be romantic of him, but it’s exactly the sort of example of one person refusing to allow another person to live their own life and make their own decision that the rather heavy handed anti-slavery message of the story denounces. The lovers are so star crossed and so hobbled by Callistus’ refusal to treat Lucius as a man – and Lucius’ spineless acceptance of this ‘chivalry’ – that *spoiler warning* if one of the things you demand in a romance is a happy ending, you’re not going to like this at all. *End spoiler*
J.P Bowie writes with such authority about the period that I hesitate to wonder if any Roman youth, particularly of a patrician family, could be as passive as Lucius. But still I can’t help but find it odd. Taking orders from a barbarian slave? It really didn’t work for me at all.
I was also not at all happy by the fact that all the women in this story were bitches. In a climate where m/m is often attacked as misogynistic, I would find it hard to defend this story.
Which was unfortunate, because as I say the research seems impeccable, and the author has the most beautiful, powerful writing style. I desperately wanted to like the story, but I couldn’t.
Fortunately, there is a second story. The story of Damian and Demetrios is much more to my taste. We do start off with a similar setup – Damian is a high class boy starting out as a sculptor, and Demetrios is a gladiator. But almost everything I didn’t like in the first story is overturned in this. Damian reacts to being thwarted by growing a backbone, becoming active in the story and beginning to shape his own destiny. Demetrios tries the high handed ‘I’m letting you go for your own sake’ tactic, but eventually gives in to Damian’s persistence. They go into peril and adventure together, and when one goes into exile the other goes with him. It almost seems a reward for their persistence that this story does have a happy ending.
Oh, and Damian’s sister, Portia, turns out not to be a bitch after all, so even there I have nothing at all to complain about.
I sincerely hope that the second story was written after the first and represents the author growing into a m/m sensibility where nobody has to be the damsel in distress. If that’s the case, the combination of gorgeous writing, wonderful world-building, and likeable characters makes this one a winner and a definite sign of a rising star to come.
Lucius & Castillus Manloveromance
Damian and Demetrios Manloveromance