Review: The Tortured Secutor by Jardonn Smith

In third century Rome, being a freedman doesn’t exempt you from punishment, even when you’ve done nothing wrong. This is the story of a gladiator granted his freedom by an Emperor, only to be caught up in the web of a treacherous patrician whose wife has been murdered. He abducts the gladiator and tortures him – only to discover taht some men will not talk, whether they know the answer or not. Powerful forces are at work. But can one strong man hold out long enought for the good to put their plan into action?

Review by Vashtan

Disclosure first: Erastes received the book from the author and passed it to Vashtan solely for the purpose of this review.

To be frank, I struggle putting into words what I feel about this book. It’s usually a bad sign if I need longer than a week for a slim book.(145 pages)  This took almost three. After reading the first third of it, I just didn’t want to go back. I made a valiant effort to finish it a week ago, and just finished the last third. I do believe that you cannot review a book you haven’t actually finished, so I read everything to the last page.

I may revise the policy.

If a writer fails over the first 50 pages in a 150-page book, it’s highly unlikely they turn the ship around in the last 100 pages. And the longer the pain drags on, the less charitable the review. Sometimes, reviewers do feel angry after reading a bad book, it’s the nature of the world.

This is the story of the gladiator Philokrates and the physician Artimos. Both men meet after death in the Elysian Fields, and tell us their story. I think. Because there wasn’t really much story. After the gladiator gets freed by the Emperor after the games, and falls in love with his physician who looks after the gladiators, they get into trouble with a corrupt trader who wants to frame the gladiator’s co-gladiator for murder of his wife, and has the gladiator and the physician abducted and tortured.

The plot then kinda meanders a little, but gets resolved off-camera. The troublemaker dies, our couple receive gifts, go to parties, and that’s the end of it. I must admit I found the story very dull – there’s just no arch to it, as if the writer wasn’t interested much in the story her/himself. What the author was interested in are a couple of graphic scenes where muscular men get crucified, tied up, beaten and tortured, and the rest of the “novel” only serves as backdrop to provide excuses for those scenes. So this is very much about the kink and not at all about the story or the characters. Which begs the question why write a novel at all rather than a number of short stories with a graphic torture scene?

Another thing: The Nazca Plains Corporation seems to take the editing part of the publishing business quite lightly. This is the second book by them I’ve read that is sloppily edited, and they don’t seem to have a standard formatting, either. This book’s paragraphs are all disconnected by blank lines, something I‘m more used to seeing in ebooks rather than print books. The editing overall didn’t look at style, either. I found the style bloated, monotonous and dull – a good editor with some good cutting could have saved the book, possibly. If an editor had found all the weird shifts in point-of-view, language misuse, typos, the gushing about “masculine beauty” and assorted purple prose (I get it, the author doesn’t have to repeat it over and over and over again), fixed the sloppily-structured so-called “plot”, the characters’ motivation…. This might have turned out readable.

Then there’s the cover – while not horrendous and certainly not a Poser cover, it still looks cheap and tacky. Not a cover I’d want to be seen with out on the street.

Research. The author made some attempt to research. From the very setup of this book, it would have been a tough book to write. Very tough, in fact. We’re dealing with two first person narrators, one a learned man and one a rough gladiator. The author makes some attempt to have one speak more educated and more poetically, whereas the gladiator is more vulgar. They still ‘sound’ the same, like the same person tried very hard to change his voice a little. Getting a first person voice of a historical character right is a massive challenge – you try and mimic how people spoke, and what they would have said how. Smith didn’t. After a few attempts to do that, we get words like “okay”, and anachronisms galore.

Now, what happens. While revelling in getting people horrendously injured (the gladiator gets his Achilles tendon severed and his ankle pretty much turned into mush during a torture scene), Smith fixes these people quite quickly, too. Apparently, a physician in 3rd century Rome could sew an Achilles tendon back together, and operate a massively fractured ankle bone, put it into plaster, and the gladiator is fine after a few days or a week. There are people that survive having spikes driven through the abdominal cavity, and in general, this physician is a hundred times better than any Roman physician that I read about.

While there is some research, it falls flat when we have Romans use mahogany (they must have sneakily crossed the Atlantic to get the wood from South and Central America), and the way that gladiatorial games are portrayed doesn’t hold up. Another thing: the characters count time in minutes (maybe they invented a wrist-watch, or the sun dials were way more precise than I though). We have minor characters called Tacitus and Ovid (Ovid isn’t the author of “The Metamorphoses” as you might have thought, but “The Annihilator”, another gladiator), and Tacitus the historian would probably turn in his urn if he knew what his namesake is up to in this book.

I struggle finding a passage that sums up this book. Maybe you want one of the torture scenes?

Once again our Roman guards, a new pair coming on duty for the evening shift, seized Philo and hung him by his wrists onto the overhead spike. One stood behind Philo, clamping his hands onto Philo’s thighs; the other stood in front, pounding him with fists. “No bone,” said the one from behind, and the punches were concentrated on his belly. Philo’s hard and stretched muscle was pounded with meaty fists from below his sternum to above his pelvis, and with no way to draw up his legs or move forward, back or side to side, Philo took these punches with nothing but muscle for defense.

He wanted to puke, but there was nothing inside his belly to puke. All he could do was tighten himself, groan upon impact, grunt upon impact, and stare past the Roman guard throwing punches into him. Guard’s name? Drusus Macarius, and if ever a man could have lived his previous life as a bull and bring with him in this life these same physical traits as a human, that would be Drusus. With broad and compact chest, bulging and rounded shoulders supporting massive arms carved from central limbs of a mighty oak tree, Drusus’s thick-skinned, bony-knuckled fists penetrated like a battering ram.

The method and intent of Drusus and his assistant was not one of beating the man, questioning him, and then beating him some more until he answered correctly. No, initiation to the Ludus Magnus for an obstinate slave simply involved a continuous beating until either he voluntarily begged for an end to it with promises of good behavior, or until he passed out. As Philo took a barrage of punishing blows from left and right, he gave no indication he was anywhere near the point of surrender. It was as though he intended to die before giving in. Drusus threw his arsenal of straight punches, hooks and uppercuts with precise accuracy to the left of Philo’s navel, to the right, below it and above, but Philo showed no signs of weakening. With every muscle tensed from his forearms to the calves of his legs, his fists clenched and toes curled, Philo stared blankly, glassy-eyed, his mind seemingly elsewhere. In fact, Philo’s eyes, when opened and not clenched shut from pain, fixated upon me. He gazed past Drusus and concentrated on me.

Perhaps this was because I dressed differently than Drusus — he covered with leather around his waist, sandals on his feet and nothing else; I covered in tunic of brown wool from shoulder to knee, a corded fabric belt around my waist — but I believe that Philo more than likely saw in me a reason for hope. My expression could not lie. It saddened me that he suffered. It was my fault that he suffered, my decision to let him sleep rather than warning him of where I would touch him that brought about his second round of punishment, and I am certain Philo used my frown and the slow turn of my head left to right as his strength. I am also certain my image was the first sign of compassion shown him in many a day, and although I was mostly powerless to help him, I did have one option to use after giving Drusus and his partner a few minutes to make their point.” (Page 16-17)

Coming to the sex, the torture scenes were clearly meant to titillate, and if there’s no torture involved, the sex is rare, brushed over and fairly bland when it happens. It did nothing for me.

In short, a book that clearly makes some effort to be historical in the large picture, but pretty much all details are wrong. All this could have been forgiven if it had been really well-written or well-constructed (I’m happy to forgive wrong details if the author gives me a cracking good read otherwise), but as it stands, this just wasn’t very good.

Who would I recommend this to? People who like torture scenes and have a torture kink, but even those may want to skip the bits in between.

Amazon UK Amazon USA

16 Responses

  1. Another thing: The Nazca Plains Corporation seems to take the editing part of the publishing business quite lightly. This is the second book by them I’ve read that is sloppily edited, and they don’t seem to have a standard formatting, either.

    According to the publisher’s website, the editing work is the author’s responsibility. :S

  2. Bah. Not much of a publisher, is it? I mean, they *assume* that authors can polish their manuscripts to flawlessness – when, seriously, with my own personal experience (and I write strong first draft copy, my publishers and betas say so), they do not.

    Editing is so much more than hunting typos. A good editor would have cut that bloated style and would likely have told the authors that the device of having the characters converse in the afterflife simply doesn’t work.

    But a publisher that refuses to edit? I mean, what’s the difference to self-publishing and vanity publishing? Do they pay royalties or are they a vanity publisher?

  3. Why so long a review for so bad a book? Anger, I know, but such a waste of electrons.

  4. The length of the review is pretty much coincidence – sometimes there’s more to say; sometimes, less.

  5. This post addresses a piece written about one of my Jardonn books, The Tortured Secutor, at the web site, Speak Its Name. Posted as new entry on Frothing Authors blog, and in comment field at Speak Its Name.

    I’m all for talking history, so lettuce.

    Disclaimer says author submitted this book to Erastes for review. True. In January 2008… back when Erastes and I were members of a Yahoo manlove author’s group… back when Erastes’s Speak Its Name review site was five months old… back when Erastes was the main reviewer, along with a few author/reviewer partners of whom I was familiar.

    I thought we might make a good pair. My Jardonn’s Erotic Tales.com site was four years old, generating around 5000 unique visitors and 200,000 page hits per month. My Tortured Secutor book was two months old and its events set in ancient Rome, so I offered to send the book (print paperback copy was offered, but instead, a pre-correction layout, PDF file was emailed at Erastes’s suggestion), and placed a link to Speak Its Name on my Jardonn site.

    All right, Speak Its Name got its link and Jardonn got nothing. No review. No reciprocol link. No big deal. I figured Erastes didn’t understand the unwritten courtesies of webmastering and would eventually come around with the link. I dropped it, left my link on Jardonn’s site sending traffic to Speak Its Name as it was, and forgot about the book review. For the most part, I also forgot about Speak Its Name.

    Now, nearly two years later, the manuscript is reviewed… not by Erastes… but by an underling… not just an underling… but a fellow-author unknown to me… and I thinks, “Wonderful! This will entertain me.” In the very first paragraph I saw a typo… taht instead of that… and I knew finishing the piece from there would be difficult. Still, I trudged forward, soon realizing the underling’s piece is filled with misrepresentations conveniently composed for purpose of making me appear the fool, and I thinks, “Wow! What the hell has this place become? What is this place all about?”

    I waste time reading more reflections from authors analyzing books written by their competitors, and understand I’ve been lured into the syrup of a very ugly place. My heart sinks further as I realize that for the first time ever, I will respond to a negative review. More time devoted to unproductivity (is that a word? god, don’t let me screw up the language), the only consolation being that since the piece is not really a review of my book, technically I still have never responded to a bad one.

    Believe me or don’t, but it’s not the piece about the book that coerces me to respond, it’s the two-year delay and the implication I just recently sent the book here for review.

    I’m all for talking history, and now, the readers, those savvy purchasers of books and the only folks who really matter, know the history of Jardonn Smith, Erastes and the web site, Speak Its Name. Add a footnote: best I can see, there still is no link from this place to my web site, but my link from Jardonn’s Erotic Tales to Speak Its Name still sits functioning on my main page.

    Damn those Google alerts. This is one Jardonn incident I wish Googlebot had not found.

  6. @Jardonn: I did’nt imply it was “recently” sent. I don’t usually know the story of how Erastes gets copies.

    Secondly: if you believe that all issues have been fixed, I’m happy to re-read the “new file” and amend where it needs to be amended.

    I’m not sure where I “misrepresented” your book. This is based on the file I read.

    Lastly, you’re not my competitor, I’m active in a totally different sub-niche of this niche. I review this strictly as a *reader* of historical fiction, and, yes, I didn’t like this as a reader. I’m not trashing other writers’ offerings to “kill the competition” and I resent the implication. But there are many writers who also review – there’s a long history of that.

    Erastes herself is a historical writer – so if you don’t want “the competition” to read your books, you shouldn’t have sent it. Even then, as far as I understand, review sites don’t need the placet of the writer to review books.

    I’m glad you found the typo. Erastes will very likely be happy to fix it.

    And I’m not an “underling” but a volunteer reviewer; I don’t get paid for reviews, and apart from writing, sometimes, in the historical space, like Erastes does, and being “friends” on livejournal and the exchange of a few emails a month, there is no other connection.

    • Dear Vashtan: My apologies for the underling remark. The main purpose of my reply was to point out the gap of time since I submitted the file to Erastes for review, and the circumstances in January 2008 which prompted my requesting the review, neither of which you could have known unless Erastes told you.

      I should have limited my comments to those subjects and not stirred the pot of story review.

      Since I did, I will argue these two misrepresentations:

      The gladiator uses a walking stick the remainder of his days, so his condition is not fine, and I do not recall specifying the Achilles tendon as the severed tendon. The villain’s come-uppance is a major event of the second scene in the arena, so resolution does not take place off-camera.

      There are no gushing reviews of this book of which I am aware, and much has changed in the 22 months since the book was submitted to this site for review. My apologies to you for implying your intentions were evil. In fact, based on what I now know this site looks for in historical fiction, your evaluation is just about right.

      This time-consuming exercise of negativity on my part should never have happened, because end result is the traffic will continue to flow one direction.

      Thank you for taking time to read the file and write your piece regarding my story.

      Jardonn Smith

      • Dear Jardonn,

        I’ll revisit the passages – I remember you writing about a tendon in the lower leg, so I assumed it would be the Achilles tendon. If you’re not specific, the reader fills in his own details.

        A tendon in the knee might be the same problem – but regardless what tendon it is, I’m pretty sure that no surgeon/medical porofessional in 3rd century Rome could sew a tendon back together. In fact, surgery was pretty much limited to setting bones and sewing wounds shut and hoping the patient survives, but I can re-visit my history of medicine if you want.

        In any case, using the kind of plaster you describe is a historical error. Splints and bandages very likely, plaster, I don’t think so. Apart from using it on what is most likely still very swollen soft tissue (which could actually lead to worse damage). You describe the doctor basically re-assembling a shattered bone, in what would even today be a long, complex operation; I found that both unbelievable and ahistorical, and I would expect your gladiator to be in considerably more pain after reciving such a wound – stiffness, possibly infection, excrutiating pain whenever he thinks so much as put weight on his foot. Using a cane is a more romantic way to deal with such a wound, but why make the wound so dramatic in the first place?

        Secondly, about the resolution happening off camera. Yes, the arena scene. You build up all this plot and then the emperor sorts the problem out for our heroes. The man Philokrates tries to protect for many pages just simply dies, and people shrug their shoulders and go about their business. I would have liked the plot to actually revolve around the main characters, so in my book, what you did was make promises (“this is the love story of two men who protect a friend against getting framed and save the day!”), but you resolve the issue without the heroes actually playing a really crucial role.

        I know the Emperor tells them that their involvement was important, but to me all that read like an accident and was very anti-climactic. My thought was “so why did I have to read the story at all if it didn’t matter, if the plot just gets resolved by minor characters after a little torture?”

        I do believe that this was a flaw in the actual building of the story.

        For me, the best part was the first meeting of the phyisician and the gladiator. That had intensity, that was alive. Sadly, the rest of the story did’nt fulfiil the promise that its beginning made. Taken a different route, this might have been good, because I found the premise intriguing.

  7. Does this sound like one of those cases where — If you can’t say something nice, why say anything at all? Even the best of intentioned criticism always seems to come across just a tad vindictive. And if it’s one author commenting upon the work of another, whether the authors’ books compete directly in the marketplace or not, there’s always the danger of making assumptions, even when to assume makes an “ass” out of “u” and out of me “me”.

    While I’m reluctant to stick my foot into this bog, for fear of being sucked even deeper into it, I can only say that I have read the book in question (being a fan of any and all books dealing with Roman history, or an author’s take on Roman history) and I enjoyed it, keeping in mind that fiction, by definition, is “other than fact”. Should any of us really expect a 100% accurate time-line in other than a work of non-fiction? Especially since, I suspect, some of the historical liberties caught by this reviewer, and noted by me (in passing), would not have been seen or recognized by any ordinary reader just out for a good “other era” read.

    I’m, likewise, genuinely of the opinion that some authors’ works just aren’t the cups of tea for each and everybody, and, if they’re not, they should probably be passed over for coffee. Obviously, Vashtan is not a fan of Mr. Smith, and vice versa. Maybe if, from here on out, they could just stay clear of each other, and each others work, there would be less pyrotechnics on which to attempt throwing water?!

    • I think that’s a little unfair, William – Vashtan is not “a fan” or “not a fan” of Mr Smith, he had never heard of him before he received the book to review. I wouldn’t let people review on this site if they were either of the above things,. I try and match people’s historical knowledge to the books they review – and I expect my reviewers to be as dispassionate as they can be- judge the WORK and not the personality. Something I’m afraid that some review sites are unable to do. If I remember your book got a glowing review here, despite the reviewer not actually liking much of the subject matter – and I agreed with that review too.

      We don’t refuse to review the books we don’t like. Again, there are sites that do that. What would be the point of only reviewing the books we thought were good? We’d then be accused of favourtism “Oh – SIN only reviews its pet authors.” That would be horrible. If all reviews are good, how can anyone get a feel of what they’d like?

      All reviews are subjective, and, although I vet reviews before they are published, I rarely make amendments, other than for length, or extreme nit-picking – and because books are reviewed by different people – it means that the reviews are varied and different people like different things. Who’d want my review on all books? I know I wouldn’t. And often, the readers will find things that we didn’t like to be attractive traits–I know that when Mrs Giggles eviscerated one of my novels, I had a buying spree for the book for a week or two afterwards.

  8. @William: all valid points. There is really one question at the heart of all reviewing – am I just being “nice”, or am I critical? There are many blogs out there that are just nice, others go out of their way to be critical, others find a mix. Personally, I prefer honest blogs that give me both the good and the ugly.

    I find it a little weird that you think just because you comment that anybody here would go out of their way to trash you? I’m not sure where I’ve given the impression that I’d react quite that immaturely.

    You can, of course, enjoy this book. I didn’t. I gave my reasons (bad writing, bad editing, bad plot, weak characters, weak history) – and you can’t fight over taste. I’m sure there are many excellent and gushing reviews of “The Tortured Secutor”, but this is not one of them.

    I honestly enjoy reading a good book more than tearing it apart. I’m not a masochist, and I’m not, by nature, vindictive. But I do call a spade a spade. If this was a bunch of roses to you, I’m not arguing.

    SIN is a blog that reviews books according to certain criteria. One of them is historical accuracy. So while it’s probably right that many readers wouldn’t find “puke” or “okay” ahistorical in first person narration, somebody reading for the history would, and that goes into the overall rating.

    And, if given the chance, I will give further Jardonn Smith books wide berth indeed, but the issue is, that I will read what Erastes sends me, and my expertise is in Ancient History and Medieval History, and then, to a less extent, military history post 1900ies.

  9. Dear Vashtan: Are you expecting me to grovel for you with more apologies? I’m afraid your Achilles tendon statement sums it up for me. You say if I’m not specific, the reader assumes, but you, Vashtan, are not a reader. You are a reviewer, or at least you have proclaimed yourself to be. Please read the very detailed arena battle between the Secutor and Retiarius, the one you failed to mention as part of the “failed” first 50 pages, and pay attention to where the sword strikes Philokrates.

    History changes, friend, or at least that’s what my prof’s at university told me. How much knowledge was lost between civilizations? How much was lost when the library burned at Alexandria? How much is locked up in Vatican vaults? How surprised were historians when archeologists recently discovered a calculator-type instrument from ancient Greece with which they tracked the moon’s orbit and positions of the Zodiac?

    I’m finished with debating you, and for any interested parties, I will serialize this book on my web site. I’ll give the damn book away for free, and we will let the public decide.

    Dear Erastes: Had you reviewed this book when I sent it to you, or had one of the people helping you at the time do it, all of this could have been avoided. All I wanted was a link. You’ve benefited from my one-way traffic since the infancy of this site. Other authors receive links when their book is reviewed, but mine did not, and still has not.

    You’ve got a lot of nerve dragging William Maltese into this, as he merely tried to play peacemaker. It seems your intent is to fuel the fire, but I must tell you that you will get no more from me. Say what you want. You have defined yourself well up to this point. This is your site and you can make it what you please, but I must say, there is no joy here, and whatever bile is spewed from here on out will have no effect on me because I will not return to see it.

    Best of luck to you and all your endeavours.

    Jardonn Smith

  10. And this is why I respect reviewers as much as I do. It’s rough work, and modern communications put reviewers just as much in the line of fire as authors. And, er, in the line of fire FROM authors.

    I haven’t read The Tortured Secutor — it’s not really my genre — but if taking issue with historical details and style are unfair nitpickery from a reviewer, I’ll eat my hat.

  11. @Jardonn: good luck to you, too.

    @C.A.: Absolutely. I’ve been wondering – from before I started – whether I should use a “traceable” name to review fellow authors… or use a “reviewing pseudonym” to exactly prevent accusations of trying to “kill the competition” or open my own books up for pot shots or “revenge reviews” of disgruntled authors.

    I did underestimate how bad/time-consuming it would be, but I’m prepared to take whatever comes from that angle. But I’ll certainly write a blog entry in the near future about reviewing.

    I wish every book was great, but they aren’t. Hence = spade.

  12. Reading the comments, I have facepalmed and laughed, and most of all, been appalled by them. Review is indeed a readers own opinion about a book. And writing a review is hard work. There is so much things to consider, so much that needs to be told, and sharing your thoughts with strangers is not always easy. And basically, attacking a reviewer, who does this job not for money, but for the sheer joy of reading, is disgusting in my opinion. Reviewers have the right to voice out their opinions, be they against your liking or not.

    Vash, I can see that you worked hard to make this a good review, and I have always, and will always, respect your honesty. I have no interest to read a review, where a reviewer has not clearly stated their opinions, have not been honest because they are afraid of hurting someone, and most importantly, lied to my face. I want a review to be honest, and you have always given me just that. Not to mention, that your amazing knowledge in history, always helps me to decide how to approach a book when deciding to return to this genre. I don’t mind historical romance being a bit freely written, but I can’t take much incorrect facts. And if the story is supposed to go along some historical events that really happened, those facts need to be correct. I, as an average high school-graduate, might not always notice wrong facts, but I do want to trust that there isn’t any of that. Research is half the work when writing an historical book of any kind.

    Aaanyway, what these commentors have failed to say to you, I will do it now.

    Thank you for the great review.
    ( I enjoyed it as always when reading your stuff. -hugs- )

  13. @Yach: I’d hope the “assumed innocent until proven guilty” would apply to reviewers. I don’t have any malicious intent when I open a book. I might get angry at sloppy and bad writing, and I might groan at things that do nothing for me (sentimental description, yaoi boys), but I do re-read my reviews several times and go through the text again to see if t was *really* this bad.

    I can trust my gut instict, usually (I do have that literature degree and have been reading an awful lot in my life), but I do not have any malicious intent towards the *writer*. If anything, I hate books, not their authors. There’s no point hating a person, I don’t know them, they’ve done nothing wrong as people.

    The problem with much historical writing is that many people think watching “Gladiator” and “Spartacus” or “A Knights Tale” and “Excalibur” is enough to write a real historical novel. I’m’ somewhat shocked at people who don’t care to research telling me I’ve got it wrong about history, which actually is grounded in several hundred years of historical research and a not-too-shabby academic degree in the field. That kind of atitude gives us a plethora of really bad historical writing, the “I don’t give a fuck” attitude, which is, sadly, fairly widespread in the genre, but I won’t stop calling lazy writers on their bullshit.

    If you want real history, check out Alex Beecroft’s “False Colours”, for example. Erastes has the same, scrupulous approach to research. Or the Banis works I’ve been reviewing.

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