#RRSci-Fi Month Book Review: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan
Sci-Fi November is a month-long blog event hosted by Rinn Reads and Over The Effing Rainbow this year, created to celebrate everything amazing about science fiction! From TV shows to movies, books to comics, and everything else in between, it is intended to help science fiction lovers share their love and passion for this genre and its many, many fandoms.
I received a review copy from the publisher. This does not affect the contents of my review and all opinions are my own.
Mogsy’s Rating: 3.5 of 5 stars
Genre: Science Fiction
Series: Book 1
Publisher: Tor Books (June 28, 2016)
Length: 496 pages
Imagine the Roman Empire in space, still busy conquering the stars and holding their brutal gladiatorial competitions to sate the bloodthirsty appetites of the public, even thousands of years into the far flung future. This is the scenario presented to us in Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan’s Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator, a sci-fi space opera featuring a galaxy in which Ancient Rome never fell, instead remaining the greatest superpower that ever existed.
The book begins in the midst of a bitter rivalry between two noble families: House Viridian, represented by the proud Golden Wolf, and House Sertorian, bearer of the Ruby Hawk emblem. Across the galaxy, other royal houses has chosen sides, plunging the empire into utter chaos and war. In an attempt to halt the violence and prevent any more unnecessarily bloodshed, the Emperor has decreed that any future fighting will instead take place in the arena at the Imperial Games on the planet Olympus Decimus, where all scores will ultimately be settled. To the victor will go the spoils, while the losers will be forced to give up their status as a ruling house and be stripped of all their royal titles and properties. Wolf and Hawk will still have a chance to take each other down, but now their fighters’ attentions will be turned to honing their gladiatorial skills.
Enter our protagonist Accala Viridius, who has sworn vengeance upon the Sertorian forces who murdered her mother and brother. As a young noblewoman, no one will heed her words, but as a common gladiator, she can take matters into her own hands. Defying her father’s wishes, Accala sacrifices her social status and privilege to compete in the Imperial Games, armed with her weapon-of-choice, a sharp-edged discus.
With this amazing premise set to such a unique backdrop, I could hardly resist. The first couple acts of this novel were perhaps my favorite of all, for I enjoyed how quickly the story established a fully-formed picture of Accala, even in spite of her single-minded desire for vengeance. The authors quickly turned what could have been a vulnerability into a character strength, focusing on Accala’s anger when they developed her personality and began establishing her motivations around this central core. Flashbacks into the past were seamlessly worked into the narrative, portraying the protagonist’s grief at her mother and brother’s deaths, which in turn provided an explanation as to why she was so determined to train as a gladiator. Without venturing into spoiler territory, Accala’s obsession with revenge may also shed some light into her frame of mind as we go deeper into the story. At a certain point, our heroine finds out a shocking truth about her family and is subsequently presented with a horrible dilemma. Admittedly, I couldn’t bring myself to agree with a lot of the things she does in the later sections of this novel, but at least I can sympathize a little with what was driving her.
Accala’s questionable decisions aside, there were a few other nagging little issues that started cropping up as I dove further into this story. For one thing, there’s a whole whopping lot of stuff happening around here, which normally wouldn’t be something I’d complain about. I’d wager though, there’s probably enough plot development in here to fill three books, but cramming it all in one volume only served to create meandering distractions and bring about reader fatigue. That’s what wore me down eventually, as whatever momentum was gained by the solid intro slowly began to drain away once we crossed the halfway point, after which the plot started to feel repetitive and too drawn out. Needless to say, I did not enjoy the second half of the book as much as the first, and I also didn’t read this section with as much speed and enthusiasm.
That being said, the story’s quick pacing wasn’t actually that affected. Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator boasts plenty of fight scenes, and in fact it doesn’t take long at all for things to turn into a massive bloodbath with heads and limbs flying off left and right. There are a lot of twists too, so don’t be surprised when certain pieces on the game board come back into play, even once you think they’ve been taken out of the equation. Nothing is over until the authors decide it is.
I also enjoyed the world-building, even if some of its foundations are a little dubious. I for one am not entirely convinced that seven millennia later, certain customs and attitudes of the ancient Romans have remained static after all this time, such as the stifling patriarchy or the populace’s rabid lust for the gladiatorial blood sports. The Roman Empire in space is an interesting thought experiment more than anything though, and approaching it from a casual point of view, it can be a lot of fun to see how Christian and Buchanan handle the mashup of science fiction and antiquity.
Final verdict: Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator was a fun romp through the galaxy with its intriguing heroine. The first half was definitely stronger than the second half, though I still think it was a great read with a highly unique and imaginative premise. Certain parts of it brought to mind the intrigues and betrayals of Pierce Brown’s Red Rising combined with the fast-paced action of the competitive games in Holly Jenning’s Arena. I would recommend Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator for fans of space operas and gritty, adventurous sci-fi sagas.