Monday, January 12, 2009

Gladiatrix, by Russell Whitfield

Mindful of my obligation to review this book for LibraryThing, I struggled valiantly to finish it, but despite my best efforts, I could only get halfway through. It would take a doughtier warrior than myself to conquer Whitfield's leaden prose, abysmal dialog, complete absence of characterization, and predictable plotting.

Except for the heroine Lysandra, there's not a single character with a spark of life, but in her case that's not a recommendation. The arrogant know-it-all who doesn't realize how others perceive her can work well when used sparingly or for comic effect -- see Elizabeth Peters' ever-adorable Amelia Peabody, for example -- but Lysandra is utterly without humor or charm. She is simply an unlikeable brat who needs a big dose of get-over-yourself.

Whitfield's endnotes (I always read the endnotes) acknowledges someone who helped him get rid of his contemporary point of view, but I'm afraid that person had too much to contend with to take care of it all. The author seems concerned, for example, that readers will find Lysandra's temple implausible and justifies it at some length. To me it seems perfectly plausible, except when we come to Lysandra's function as a "mission priestess." I am by no means an expert on ancient Greek religion, but it seems clear that proselytization was not one of its features; it spread haphazardly through conquest and syncretization with existing local deities.

The more serious historical lapse involves the so-called Tribe comprising the women from Gaul and Britain. We modern readers can accept that they all fall into an overarching definition of "Celtic," but I sincerely doubt that an Iceni and a Dacian are going to automatically recognize each other as blood-sisters.

On a shallow note, Whitfield's sex scenes are embarrassing and far from erotic, not only as though he knows nothing about lesbians, but as though he knows nothing about sex between any two people anywhere.