On the edge of the Roman Empire, Queen Boudica’s rebellion has ended. A time of great tragedy has passed. Atellus, a Roman magistrate living in Gaul, discovers he’s no longer sympathetic to Rome and must now quesdtion every facet of his life.
A cunning Celtic woman with golden red hair arrives in the slave markets, defiant and angry, a danger to anyone foolish enough to purchase her. As punishment for her willfulness, she is to be offered as a sexual favor to Roman guests at a lavish feast and put to death for their entertainment.
For Atellus, it is love at first sight. He wants to own her. They embark on an erotically turbulent journey through a lonely Celtic forest. He suspects his beautiful slave is harboring a painful secret and must never again speak her true name. She is Celtic royalty–the last of her kind.
In the heart of the forest, strong-willed lovers clash, fall in love and catch a glimpse of what the future can be if both can learn to trust and forgive.
This is another Wow! book from Katalina Leon, and having read several of her other books, I am not surprised. It is a step back into a time and culture about which contemporary readers seldom have the background to understand. That is not to put down contemporary romance readers; it is just a awareness that in our democratic identity, most American readers struggle with the realities of slavery as it existed nearly 2,000 years ago. The heroine is a beautiful, well-endowed, strong, and bitter woman. She has become a part of the spoils of war and her identity as a human being is gone. She is now property. And yet, she still knows that she is a person, a woman of power and worth, too proud to acquiese to the demeaning life into which she has been forced, willing to accept death rather than become manageable and used.
Even Atellus is bound by his culture–no surprise here. Even though he is smitten with her he still sees her within the context of a slave/master relationship as an amatrix of love slave, given to him to satisfy his physical needs. There is no doubt that historically many Roman men formed very strong and powerful bonds with their love slaves, yet these women were still slaves and lived or died at the whim of their masters. Rutila (not her true name but the one given her by her Roman captors), the Celtic slave, was unwilling to be one. She was prepared to kill any Roman who placed her in such a relationship and thus it was decreed that her last earthly act was to be gang raped and then killed–all while she was drugged to prevent any negative response on her part. Nice people, those Romans!! Even after Atellus rescues her from the slave market, even though their first night spent together is during her drugged state, Rutila is determined to escape Rome’s clutches, even if it meant killing Atellus. Ultimately she has to make some decisions about whether she will more highly value her bitterness and anger, or will she see in Atellus a man who is honorable and whose values are not those of Rome, a man who sees her with the eyes of love.
Yet we still see in Atellus a man of honor, who faced the reality that his brother and sister-in-law were not nice people, were driven by greed and political ambition, and were willing even to cheat him–a member of their family and a Roman magistrate– and the Empire to gain their goals. He was a man that saw what Rome was becoming, and when it was all laid out before him, was supremely happy to be away from the centers of the Empire’s notice and power. He was a man who began to value Rutila as a person, a woman of personal determination–not just stubbornness–and who may or may not ever return his love. He was a loving father and a person who saw worth even in the serfs who worked the land, these were worthy of his regard and care.
In the midst of a society where only the upper classes were deemed persons of worth, two people come together in anger and bitterness, but also in love. How they reach some sort of resolution is the gist of this story. There is pain, hurt, anger, violence, betrayal and personal disappointment galore in this tale. There are no Elysian Fields here. Yet in spite of this backdrop of human emotions and the worst that people can do to one another emerges values, feelings, and a relationship that warm and encourage the human heart.
Katalina Leon brings a proven track record of literary and writing expertise to the telling of this story. She has crafted a plot that comes right out of the history books, but she has given birth to characters that are genuine and believable, exhibiting both the worst and the best of humanity. She has written in such a way that there will be few readers who read this story and are not deeply touched by the emotions and feelings of these ancient persons. Yet their story, while not set in contemporary contexts, still calls to all of us. Today there are still people of prejudice and greed, motivated by political and personal ambition, who pick up and discard others for their own selfish ends. There are still people of honor who refuse to go along with the status quo and who are able to see and appreciate people of all social strata as persons of worth. There are people who must endure the bitterness of disappointment and possibly abuse, and others who reach out to them in love and trust.
I liked this story very much. I own up to a particular liking for ancient history and thus stories set in those times are of particular interest to me. But I liked best that even in the ancient Roman context, the nature of human relationship was explored, and while this is labeled as erotic romance, it has great worth purely as historical fiction and as a work that can and will bring readers face to face with the deeper issues of life and love.
I give this book a 4.25 out of 5.
You can read more from Judith at Dr. J’s Book Place.