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    YA historical with a smart and fierce heroine

    Trigger warnings: physical & sexual abuse, suicidal ideation I loved the premise of this - warrior princess Spartacus, heck yes! There's a definite lack of historical YA, and I was super thrilled to read one set in Ancient Rome. However, the author notes in the beginning that she's taken some liberties with historical accuracy, and actually lays a few out in detail in another note at the end of the book. Originally, I thought the warning was odd and unnecessary (well, yeah, I mean, Spartacus wasn't a woman), but one inaccuracy in particular turned out to be the big sticking points for me. It is worth a warning that this is the first in a series, which I didn't realize when I started reading this, so the abrupt cliffhanger ending and unfinished plot threads surprised and disappointed me. I liked Attia, though at times I'm not sure why the other characters did! She's brave, strong, and fierce, a kickass warrior princess, though it seemed like she was missing the other leadership skills she'd need to lead the Thracians. She does protect those she considers friends, though it took her time to come to trust pretty much anyone. I also liked Xanthus, also, though I had problems believing his tragic backstory would have led to him being so kind-hearted and gentle. He is, at heart, a good guy, and he treats Attia with respect, even when she's basically treating him like he's a monster. He's also the de facto leader of Timeus' gladiators, who have trained together since they were first purchased as slaves. He's kind even to Timeus' nephew, Lucius, who will, in all likelihood, be his next master, helping train him in sword fighting. Xanthus seems to be a born leader, and he and Attia together seem to have all the skills to lead a slave rebellion! Unfortunately, the romance between Xanthus and Attia didn't work for me. I didn't feel the chemistry, and it all seemed to happen so fast. I wish it would've been more of a slow-burn, because Ms. Wyk did such a good job of showing how alone and suspicious Attia was, that having her fall for Xanthus so quickly didn't jive. It would've been nice to see them settle in to their friendship before going straight to deeply in love. Besides Attia and Xanthus, the other characters very one-dimensional. There's the darling little poppet who brings out Attia's maternal instincts, the aloof concubine, the slave woman who takes Attia under her wing, and the teen heir who hates his life. I wish we'd gotten more about Xanthus' fellow gladiators. They're not particularly well sketched out, but what was there was interesting, and I would've liked to read more about their backstories and early training together. Unfortunately, I also found the plot predictable and a bit tortuous. For instance, I found it very strange that Attia, who beat up her master, his bodyguard, and a slew of city guards shortly after she was bought at a slave auction, would then be given the job of being nursemaid to the master's young invalid niece. It sometimes felt like people did things out of character just so a certain situation could be created for Attia or Xanthus. Besides the predictable plot, the grand finale was the aforementioned historical inaccuracy that was just... strange. To try to explain without giving away any spoilers, first off, we know from the historical record that basically anything that happened in that last bit would've been scientifically and geographically impossible. I'm willing to suspend disbelief for a lot of things, and I'm certainly not expecting 100% historical accuracy, but it seemed like it was there just to make a big grand finale, and I would've preferred a more character-driven final climax. There were plenty of other shocking things that happened at the end of the book that felt overshadowed by the event. OK, so it sounds like I didn't like anything about the book, but in all honesty, it was entertaining and I did enjoy it while reading it. I loved the action scenes. There's one particular one mid-way through the book that I thought was particularly wonderful (you'll know what I mean when you get there!). I also think it did a good job setting up the atmosphere of the Roman empire, the politics, and the oppression of anyone who wasn't Roman, and how it affected Romans and non-Romans alike. Overall, if you're hungry for a YA historical with a smart and fierce heroine, and don't mind some historical inaccuracy, you will love this book!
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