Monday, November 21, 2005
I had the pleasure of meeting author Jim Duffy last Spring at the first North American conference of the Historical Novel Society in Salt Lake City, Utah. Jim was working on the final edits of his book "Sand of the Arena" that will usher in a new series of novels, "Gladiators of the Empire". Jim was kind enough to send me a pre-release galley of his new book and I have enjoyed reading it. Jim has conducted extensive research in the life and training of gladiators and it shows in the depth of detail he has woven into his novel. His action scenes are very well paced and draw the reader quickly forward, rewarding him with a believable and gratifying conclusion to each encounter.
I found the protagonist's Ethiopian friend Lindani's almost miraculous feats of prowess in the beast hunts particularly fascinating and the shipwreck scene graphically realistic and immersive (no pun intended). Duffy's experience in writing for television has given him insight into the entertainment aspect of historical fiction and his tightly written prose provides a literary adrenaline rush that is seldom experienced in a first novel.
I do think as the series progresses, however, he will need to balance the glorification of victory and the rush of audience acclaim with the bittersweet aspects of belonging to a social class that is considered the lowest of the low, and the obstacles that this creates in the pursuit of other objectives.
"In 63 AD the long arm of the Roman Empire stretches across the European continent and the gladiatorial games are awash in blood and glory. For Quintus Honorius Romanus, son of one of the richest men in Rome, everything is as it should be--as long as he can sneak off to the amphitheater for a little entertainment. Things go drastically wrong, however, when Quintus loses his family, his social standing, and his name to an imposter. Faced with a life of menial slavery, Quintus joins a gladiatorial school instead and begins a game of unimaginably high stakes, as he vows to bring down the usurper who stole his life. But first he must survive his training. Together with the deadly African hunter Lindani and the lethal gladiatrix Amazonia, Quintus learns the hard way what it means to live--and die--in the arena.
Rough-and-tumble, fast-paced, and unrelenting, Sand of the Arena brings the Roman Empire to life and sheds light on its most controversial form of entertainment. Quintus, Lindani, and Amazonia face the ultimate test of courage and skill inside the arena--and out. For the Gladiators of the Empire, the goal is simply to survive!"