Title: The Left Hand of Calvus
Author: LA Witt
Publisher: Riptide Publishing, 2012
Saevius is a veteran of the arena, but as a gladiator, he’s not master of his own fate. When he’s sold to a Pompeiian politician to work as a bodyguard, he’s cautiously optimistic about his future. But this good fortune doesn’t last, as he soon finds out that Calvus is playing a dangerous game, which might have fatal consequences for Saevius. Caught up in the sticky web of intrigue, Saevius is tasked to discover with which gladiator Calvus’s wife is having an affair.
Saevius now finds himself acting as an agent for Calvus in the ludus of the lanista Drusus, who has a reputation for being cruel. Yet Saevius is unaccountably drawn to the master on whom he’s been employed to spy. No man can serve two masters, and at some point Saevius will have to betray one of them. But making that decision is not going to be easy.
While this is ostensibly a m/m tale, if you’re looking for scenes of hot, pumping action, you’re going to come away empty-handed. (No pun intended, LOL.) What you will get, however, is a story brimful of tension, and that is, in itself, a reward. Also, kudos to the author for dumping a huge reveal later on in the story. I totally did not see that one on the horizon and it put an entire different spin on the tale that left me grinning like crazy.
Most of all, I loved Saevius as a character. He’s been there, done that, and bears the scars. He’s a man who gets on with the job and has realistic expectations about people and situations. Much of his conflict is related to loyalty. Scenes where he has to get over being the new guy in the ludus and wins the grudging respect of his fellow gladiators – that was awesomely done. Also, the careful dance he has keeping both Calvus and Drusus happy – nerve-wrecking.
LA Witt makes me feel like I’m *there* in the story, that these things actually happened to *real* people. Which means that you’re not going to find larger-than-life characters here with epic stories of derring-do. Everyone’s got flaws. Everyone’s got issues. Pompeii is dirty and full of perils for the unwary. And Saevius is a man who’s trying to do the right thing while keeping his head on his shoulders, almost literally in some situations.
In any case, if you’re a big fan of historical stories set during ancient times, be it watching Spartacus on telly or reading classic Mary Renault, then this story will possibly bite you in all the right places. I am loving the living hell out of Riptide’s Warriors of Rome series, and this title just underscores the fact that they’re onto a very good thing. More please!