Review – Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant Buchanan

August 4, 2016
Review – Wolf’s Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian and Morgan Grant BuchananWolf's Empire: Gladiator by Claudia Christian, Morgan Grant Buchanan
Published by Tor Books Format: eARC
Source: Publisher

Thanks to Tor Books for providing me with a copy of this book in exchange for my honest review. This does not affect my opinion of the book or the content of my review.

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Wolf’s Empire is a space opera with, as strange as it may sound, the Roman Empire set at it’s heart.  Imagine a world in which the Roman Empire continued to go from strength to strength dominating not only the known world but eventually branching out into space to eventually embrace an empire spanning the galaxy.  This story imagines a Rome set 7,000 years in the future and yet still brings to us an empire with conflict at it’s core.  The story is one of revenge and involves a young woman who goes to great length to avenge the deaths of her mother and brother and also to try and break free of the unwanted role placed upon her by society.

I must say that I really did enjoy this read.  I had a few qualms here and there and I did wonder how a Roman theme would lend itself to such a futuristic story but on the whole I think the authors did a great job of bringing to us a sweeping story of revenge that actually evolves into so much more than I ever anticipated.

Firstly, a little background.  Accala Viridian is a noblewoman, from House Viridian, one of the seven houses that rule the Empire’s provinces, with the Emperor himself ruling supreme in the eighth house.  House Viridian, are the bearers of the Golden Wolf insignia, they have for years embodied the virtues of honour and duty above all else, steeped in tradition their house is probably a little less progressive than some of the others.  House Sertorian, bearer of the Ruby Hawk insignia focus more on ambition and seem to embody the notion of ‘winning no matter what the cost’ – to them, honour is an antiquated value that has no place in their ruthless world.  Their desire for greater power and recognition for their house has led to war with House Viridian – a war that not only seems to have cost the lives of Accala’s mother and brother but also seems to be one that House Viridian are not faring too well in.

The Emperor, in a bid to stamp out the war, decided to stage an Imperial Games based on the planet Olympus Decimus.  The winner of the games will rule supreme, the losers will no longer be one of the ruling houses and will be stripped of all their titles and assets – so a lot is resting on the outcome.  Added to this – the local population on Olympus Decimus are staging their own protest against Roman rule and everything is about to come crashing together in a most spectacular, sometimes mind boggling, incredibly entertaining, blood thirsty and horror soaked way imaginable!  Let me be clear though, my idea of horror soaked is probably not the same as others.  I think the horror here is more in terms of the concepts that the authors have come up with and certainly there are a few gory scenes, these are gladiators after all, but I don’t think this is gratuitous.

I enjoyed such a lot of things about this book.  I think the authors have managed to combine the ancient and the new in a remarkable way.  The story has a very large scope and yet doesn’t feel cumbersome or overburdened with backstory or history – these aspects just flow naturally as the story progresses.  We have a central character who is far from perfect and not above making wrong decisions that will just make you want to yell at her occasionally.  There are some epic fight sequences and gladiator scenes that are brought to life so vividly and that, whilst they will seem familiar, have been updated to include technology and drug enhanced fighting skills.

In terms of the characters – Accala is a character who develops continually as the story advances as do quite a number of the other characters.  She begins the piece with vengeance firmly in mind and really you have to remember this as you read along because this really is her sole motivation and leads her to at times make some disastrous decisions.  Of course, Accala never really knows who are the good guys and who are the bad guys –  they seem fairly obvious at the outset but nothing is ever quite as clear cut as it first seems and certainly a lot of the characters here have their own motivations that drive them on which makes it difficult to know who is helping and who is hindering.

Accala’s dreams of gaining revenge seem at first to be continually thwarted.  Her own father seeks to marry her off before she can cause him any embarrassment and even though she succeeds in gaining a place on the gladiator team the Emperor decrees that she return home and honour her father’s wishes.  Then an unexpected alliance offers her the chance to become a gladiator and fight in the arena.  And this is when her world is really turned on it’s head.

We have a number of chapters where Accala trains with her new team members as they travel through space on route to the games – I particularly enjoyed these chapters.  They’re really well done and quite gripping with revelations.  We see Accala brought low by an addiction that really takes a grip on her – but I won’t go further into that detail because their lies the path of spoilers.  Upon reaching their destination the tension doesn’t relent at all with some furious fight scenes upon the gladiator field which are then followed by a change in tack as we delve into the core of the planet looking for, well, I’m not going to tell you what they’re looking for, you’ll have to discover that yourself.

In terms of criticisms – well, at first I wondered how well the Roman theme would work being expanded into such a modern world and I must say that I had a few moments where I initially thought – surely a civilisation which has moved on 7,000 years would have developed a little more in terms of seeking such bloodthirsty entertainment and surely they would have developed a little more in terms of equality amongst the sexes, but, that being said, I think the authors were, as mentioned above combining the ancient aspects with the new – it’s a difficult combination to balance but I think they did a very good job and I also think you have to consider that we have an empire here that whilst they may have developed in certain respects have maintained their central desires to rule everything that they can reach – they therefore still remain ruthless.  The only other criticism I had was that towards the last 25% there was undoubtedly a lot of action but some of it became a little repetitive – not in that they were the same fight scenes but more the set up and outcomes.

Apart from a few little niggles I found this a very enjoyable read.  I think the authors managed to surprise me a good deal more than I expected, the story was entertaining, there were a number of wtf moments – seriously – and if you pick up a copy you WILL know when you reach those points – and we have a main protagonist who is flawed but keeps trying at all costs and against the odds.

Lynn Williams
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