After an inconvenient display of mercy in the arena, the gladiator Anazâr is pulled from the sands and contracted to nobleman Lucius Marianus to train his new stable of female gladiators. His new charges are demoralized and untested, and they bear the marks of slavery and abuse. Anazâr has a scant four months to prepare them for the arena, and his new master demands perfection.
Anazâr’s surprised by how eager he is to achieve it—far more eager than a man motivated by only self-preservation. Perhaps it’s because Marianus is truly remarkable: handsome, dignified, honorable, and seemingly as attracted to Anazâr as Anazâr is to him.
But the rivalry between Marianus and his brother, Felix, sparks a murder conspiracy, with Anazâr and his gladiatrices caught in the middle. One brother might offer salvation . . . but which? And in a world where life is worth less than the pleasures of the crowd or the whims of a master, can there be any room for love? As a gladiator, Anazâr's defenses are near impenetrable. But as a man, he learns to his cost that no armor or shield can truly protect his heart.
Mark of the Gladiator by the talented writing duo of Heidi Belleau and Violetta Vane has a lot going for it! It's got great action sequences intermixed with clever political intrigue that keep you on the edge of your seat as well as a steamy but conflicted romance. The vivid scenery showing the differences between the have and have-nots along with its realistic language drew me even deeper into a storyline that kept me guessing and my heart pounding.
Focusing on the rarely discussed in history female gladiators comes problematic gladiator/slave Anazar to the House of Marianus. He's to train a motley crew of women but soon becomes embroiled in the rivalry between brothers Lucius and Felix which is never as it appears. Anazar is noble and conflicted through much of the book wanting a real life but not willing to sell his soul for it. He's smarter than most of the upperclass give him credit for and good at seeing into the other character's souls. He's been beaten but not beaten down and I found his road to a HEA a hard fought yet fully satisfying one.
Felix is the black sheep of the family going out of his way to embarrass them. Society considers him a wastrel but deep down is a man whose heart was ripped out who finally finds someone worth fighting for. He shows an ingenious deviousness and sharp wit that will keep him alive and help him achieve his HEA with Anazar. Their relationship starts out with them as enemies but they soon forge a deeper understanding of one another and realize they're more alike than they thought. These sexual interludes are extremely satisfying and allow each of them to have things they never had before: Anazar doesn't have to be at the mercy of another while Felix gets to be with someone he respects and who accepts him wholeheartedly. Even though society considers them unequal, they couldn't be more perfect for one another and these interludes were a bit of heaven amongst the deceit and bloodletting surrounding them.
Lucius and his wife Aelia are truly devious but appear genteel to their slaves all the while making plots and using everyone for their gains. Their plotting constantly had me guessing and resulted in a few jaw dropping moments that made for some exhilarating storytelling. Many of the uppercrust were exactly the same though which showed the plight of the slave's lives to be especially precarious.
From start to finish I found much to enjoy about this story. It's vividness on every level had me feeling as though I were watching The fight scenes were heartpoundingly fast-paced with memorable characters put into a game of cat and mouse that kept me constantly guessing. This was an extremely satisfying story and my favorite of all the Warriors of Rome series due to the exceptionally entertaining plot and writing style of this dynamic duo of authors.
My rating for this is an A.
*I received this book from the authors in exchange for my honest opinion.